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The Federal Bureau of Investigation announces its intention to create a stronger, better, faster database using biometric data

Biometrics is already something of a buzz word, with more and more of its applications in places like train stations, airports and even Walt Disney World.  Governmental agencies borrowed the word as of late for more interesting projects: identifying people based on intrinsic physical or behavioral traits.

The FBI in particular is no exception, the agency plans to award a 10-year contract with a one billion dollar tab to expand the quantity and quality of its biometric data.

Biometric information can include many things such as fingerprints, palm prints, iris and corneal scans, facial structure, noticeable markings, stride and even innocuous personal behavior like typing rhythm and mouse gestures. The project, dubbed Next Generation Identification (NGI), is set to gather all types of bio-data and store in one location for identification and forensics purposes.

The database would be accessible by many law enforcement and government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, which already uses iris scans at airports to allow people who have passed background checks to move through airport security more quickly; and the Defense Department, which has been collecting data on Iraqi and Afghan detainees for the past two years.

The database could be used to identify known or suspected criminals or terrorists by matching facial structure, iris scans or the gait of walk via cameras in places of interest like bus stations or airports. The eventual goal will be to identify threats in real-time without human intervention.

Detractors to the FBI's plans claim that such a database has many pitfalls. Gathered data, if incorrect or stolen, could prove a serious problem for ordinary citizens that become victims of the system's imperfections.

The new database differs from the TALON database forced out of operation last September.  Whereas TALON stored data on individuals as reported by field officers, NGI's data will largely stem from autonomous data acquisition sources -- like cameras and sensors.  However, data from NGI will be used in conjunction with entries in the Bureau's Guardian Threat Tracking System; a database that took over TALON's entries after its demise.

"It's going to be an essential component of tracking. It's enabling the Always On Surveillance Society," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in a Washington Post article last week.

While the idea does ring of an Orwellian society, agencies like the Department of Homeland Security would benefit from such an overt system, should it work as planned. The FBI is working with the West Virginia University Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR) to make live scanning a reality. CITeR is working on scanning processes that would be able to identify a person by iris scan at up to 15 feet and face-shape by 200 yards. The Center will begin to work with the FBI on biometric research in the near future.

Voicing in on access and privacy concerns, Thomas E. Bush III, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division stated "we have very stringent laws that control who can go in there and to secure the data." Presently over 900,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers have access to the FBI's fingerprint database. The number could increase as more agencies and officials gain access to the growing biometrics database.

More than just privacy advocates have shown disdain for the database.  A recent study in Germany using facial recognition technology garnered a 60 percent matches success rate during optimal lighting conditions. The accuracy plummeted as low as 10 percent in low-light situations. The German law-enforcement agency tolerated a false positive rate of 0.1 percent, or 23 people of the roughly 23,000 that passed through the train station where the study was done.

Homeland security and false identification of criminals aside, the system could have other merits if used by other federal and state institutions like hospitals and missing persons units. Various biometric data could be used to identify victims of crimes, along with possible evidence towards their culprits, or to find missing or runaway children who might happen to pass through an area with an active scanning system.

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Minority Report
By NullSubroutine on 12/27/2007 12:26:22 AM , Rating: 3
Invariably it seems that the Fedral Government is doing it's hardest to transform the old 'freedom loving' USA into a police state.

The Bush Admistration believes it has the power to claim US citizens are 'combatants of war' and not subject to the rights under the constitution. It tortures 'suspected' terrorists and also spies on US citzens without oversight or approval.

All this loss of freedom for what? Ahh yes, to prevent people from 'killing' US citizens by use of 'terrorism'. How many people have died from terrorism? What is the cost of our freedom (that we won't get back without violent revolution)?

Terrorism has killed under 5,000 people within how many years? How many people die every year from indadequate health care, drunk driving, poor road construction, poor road maintence, or a slew of other things? How much of our budget is spent on 'fighting terrorism' and funding wars?

It is clear that terrorism has taken over the 'drug war' for the reason for the federal government to waste resources, stiffen laws, remove our liberties, and increase its power (especially the King-er I mean President's).

RE: Minority Report
By Ringold on 12/27/2007 1:00:44 AM , Rating: 3
George Washington and his entire motley crew of founding fathers would point out (as would libertarian-minded conservatives of the Goldwater breed) that this isn't a problem of just Bush's, or Republicans or Democrats, but the ultimate goal of all governments: expanded power and control over the people and the economy.

One of them, I think Franklin, even suggested America needed an armed rebellion every 15 or 20 years I believe in order to be sure freedom wasn't being rolled back.

Instead we waited until the 1860s for our first BIG armed rebellion against further expansion of federal power (which is really what the Civil War was about, slavery was a secondary issue), and after 600,000+ soldiers died plus an unknown number of civilians, and the rebellion not only failed but provided with Lincoln the first precedent of massive federal power as well as a precedent for temporary dictatorial powers for a President (though none has happened to use such powers and then live long enough to see what the consequences would be). States rights were dead; everything that has happened since has been, in a way, inevitable. Such is the power of the dark side -- I mean, government.

This is why small-government conservatives are, well.. small government conservatives! Or libertarian, however you want to split it. I try to be fair regarding Bush, but wont claim him as one of my own.

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook
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