The Defense Department is preparing two large scale tests to prove whether biometrics can control who enters military facilities without impeding the flow of traffic.
For more than a decade, DoD has used fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition technology to detect terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and in other countries. But as an approach to physical access, the military has only in a limited way put their Common Access Cards (CACs) with biometric data on them to full use.
“There are some quick wins happening in DoD around physical access,” said Brian Hunt, the Army’s chief of the future applications branch in the Biometrics Identity Management Agency, during the FOSE conference in Washington Thursday. “The Pentagon Force Protection Agency … has developed a system that is in place at the Mark Center in [Alexandria,] Virginia. It is not yet turned on, but they have gone through phase one, which is the enrollment of the workforce population, several thousand. It uses the DoD CAC and the application is when you come to work you put your CAC card down on a little entry turnstile and then you have a choice of either putting your index finger down or looking straight ahead at an iris scanner. In about six seconds, the system validates a couple of things, that your biometric matches what’s on the card and then it matches to the database. It raises the security posture beyond what a normal swipe card would do.”
Hunt said the Mark Center database includes about 6,100 people, which is more than actually work at the facility. He said many of the DoD personnel who visit the Mark Center often also have enrolled.
The Pentagon Force Protection Agency is getting ready to turn on the physical access control system using biometrics in the coming months.
In about a year, the Pentagon will implement a similar physical access control system. Hunt said there are about 25,000 people who come into the building each day.
“This will be a shining example and it will become an accepted means for further projects across the department,” he said.
Hunt said the technology on the CAC has been ahead of the policy and ability to use the technology. But over the last five-to-seven years, DoD and large private sector organizations have shown the value biometrics could bring.
Private sector examples of biometrics in use
Hunt said Disney World, Sea World and a jail are using biometrics to identify customers or prisoners. Also, a school district in Pinellas County, Fla., uses vein recognition to identify students when they buy school lunches.
“What we are seeing is shining points of light, organizations moving out and doing things within the current policy that will enable future policy to be written,” he said. “If you can show you can do it and you’ve respected all the policy concerns, systems of records notices and if you have safeguarded identity, you’ve opened the door for policy makers to relax a bit and to write policies [that keep up with technology].”
The Army has shown the value of biometrics in Afghanistan and Iraq. Soldiers are using handheld devices to reach back into their database and the FBI’s database when they come across potential terrorists.
The Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) has more than 7 million records after six years and can accommodate 15,000 to 17,000 transactions a day, said Tom Killion, the director of the Army’s Biometrics Identification Management Agency.
Killion said the Army already automatically shares data with the FBI and soon will move from manual to automated sharing with the Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Visit program.
Additionally, DoD is looking at other modalities, including voice, vein structure, DNA and even odor.
Advanced formed for biometrics under review
Alexander Lazarevich, the project manager for DoD biometrics, said DoD is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lincoln Labs to figure out algorithms to recognize vocal patterns without regard to stress or media, such as a cell phone or a microphone.
He said the Armed Forces DNA Identification lab also is conducting a pilot to correlate identities through the data, and they want to add artificial intelligence to make the match happen more quickly.
But for all of these ideas and plans, it comes back to how will biometrics help DoD meet its mission.
Hunt said several business functions could benefit from biometrics.
“In the whole area of identity assurance there are so many things we are looking at. The healthcare community in DoD, both Tricare and the Veterans Affairs Department, are using biometrics to support the current HIPAA requirements for carefully allowed access to very, very personal information,” he said. “Tricare has approached us and they are very interested in looking at biometrics in a pilot or demonstration capability to be a technology applied from the point a service member is wounded in a forward area through their triage and evacuation so there is absolute certainty that the records that sometimes are electronically transmitted from theater to rear area hospital match the person.”
In the meantime, BIMA is conducting an identity authentication study. DoD released a broad agency announcement through FedBizOpps.gov asking for best practices from industry, academia and agencies.
“Biometrics is not the mission, it enables other missions,” he said. “There has to be a study to determine the cost-benefit ratio for implementing biometrics. There is a cost to implement biometrics, the sustainment costs, the costs in terms of time, the throughput rates a large base has to consider when they have to move 10,000 people through the gates by 8 a.m. each day.”
He said in the BAA DoD asked for insight into four different identity systems:
Name based checks
“What we hope this study will do is show a cost-benefit analysis that will allow commands and organizations to develop and support a justifiable, risk-oriented investment decisions since we know our budgets are being reduced,” Hunt said. “Biometrics may not be the best thing for a small or a big installation. It’s a technology that is best applied when it’s taken in a scalable format.”
Hunt said the study should be done by the end of the fiscal year.
This story is part of Federal News Radio’s daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-8 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.