Washington, D.C. – The Subcommittees on Research and Technology today held a hearing to examine the current development and state of biometric technologies and the challenges of adopting biometric technology. Witnesses discussed the practical applications of biometric technologies, future uses and how their use impacts public policies.

Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.): “Whether being used to enhance security by controlling physical access to facilities or preventing fraud by controlling electronic access to computer networks, these practical applications affect everyone on an individual and collective scale. This includes safeguarding our international borders and protecting financial transactions, which is essential as technology rapidly advances and our world becomes more dependent on cyber infrastructure.”

The term biometrics is an umbrella descriptor for the various methods of identifying individuals using unique aspects of the body—the most common being fingerprints. There are a number of unique biometric indicators such as handprints, vein dimensions, iris and retina detection, body odor, voice and gait detection. Currently biometric identification technologies are most commonly used to secure facilities, protect computer network access, counter fraud, border protection and fighting crime. Biometric security utilizes “what you are” to authenticate individuals, as opposed to “what you know” such as a password.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released a solicitation seeking information on commercially available live scan fingerprint systems for possible use by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Such a technology would allow for quicker identification by developing tablet-based technologies that can capture biometrics at the scene of a crime. Biometric research has been conducted at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) since the 1960’s – starting with fingerprint identification technology the FBI used to support law enforcement. Today, NIST research includes developing uses and enhancing different types of biometric technologies, including fingerprinting, face and iris scanning, voice recognition and DNA testing.

The following witnesses testified today:
Dr. Charles H. Romine, Director, Information Technology Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Mr. John Mears, Board Member, International Biometrics and Identification Association
Dr. Stephanie Schuckers, Director, Center for Identification Technology Research