NIST to set standards for biometric recognition technology

Friday - 6/21/2013, 5:10am EDT

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

Lawmakers want the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to set the standards for incorporating dual biometric capabilities for identification cards by Sept. 1.

Without the biometric standards and technologies in place, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said he is concerned about national security.

"I think we've left ourselves at an incredible risk," said Mica, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on Government Operations, at a hearing Wednesday. "We don't know who is coming and going."

Biometric modalities could include anything from face to fingerprint to iris to signature recognition and others.

Mica said NIST promised to set biometric standards at a 2011 hearing, but has yet to do so.

Charles Romine, director of the Information Technology Laboratory for NIST, said biometrics standards are not yet available because NIST is researching and addressing challenges specific to iris identification technology.

"Our concern is that we have to do the best standards development and coordination on behalf of the federal government," Romine told the subcommittee.

Setting the standards will let other governmental agencies incorporate iris and fingerprint recognition capabilities into their identification processes.

John Allen, director of flight standards service of the Federal Aviation Administration, said the administration is in the process of developing pilot certificates with photographic and other biometric data.

"The National Institute of Standards and Technology is in the process of a rulemaking that will establish standards to enable the use of iris biometric data, but has not yet established this standard," Allen said. "That impacts the FAA, since the agency seeks to avoid duplicating, interfering with or superseding efforts by other federal agencies with respect to standards or implementation."

Various agencies already incorporate biometrics into their identification processes. In March, the Department of Homeland Security created the Office of Biometric Identity Management to collect, store, analyze and update biometric data.

Currently, U.S. visa cards include digital photograph and fingerprint biometric data. Though visas do not currently use iris recognition technology, Brenda Sprague, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for passport services, said the cards have the capacity to do so. Implementation of an iris-detection system, however, would be difficult, she said.

"The challenge will be to capture that data," Sprague said.

Romine said NIST will host a workshop on July 9 and will release a special publication outlining the standards for applying and implementing biometric technologies shortly thereafter.

Mica said another hearing will be scheduled this fall to ensure NIST establishes such standards.

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

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