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Experts: Government potential large for biometrics

Sep. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Apple Introduces Two New iPhone Models At Product
The inclusion of biometric features in the new iPhone 5S underscores a national movement toward broader use of the technology. (Getty Images)

TAMPA, FLA. — Biometrics could extend well beyond national security and public safety applications and play a huge role in improving how agencies administer benefits programs, like Medicare and Social Security, industry experts say.

Kelli Emerick, executive director of the Secure ID Coalition, said such programs are in need of better identity management programs to counter fraud and ensure payments go to who they are supposed to. “All of these programs seem ripe for some sort of identity management to enable them to save money,” Emerick said, adding that about 80 developing countries are using biometrics for identity verification.

“Government can’t afford to administer public programs without knowing who people are,” said Emerick, one of several experts speaking this week at the Biometric Consortium Conference and Technology Expo.

The federal government lags behind others in this area, experts said.

“What we’ve really got to get to is quality of life,” said Ken Gantt, acting deputy director of the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM). He said biometrics are able to improve medical benefits, banking and other programs for eligible participants.

Emerick downplayed fears that the government would create a national identification system and misuse data to track whether someone has attended a gun show or anti-government rally. However, given the recent uproar about the National Security Agency’s data collection program, people want to know what information is being collected by agencies, how information is being used, and the rules that govern data use, he said.

“There is a responsibility of government to be very clear with citizens,” Emerick said.

New developments in the consumer space are thrusting biometrics in the spotlight, which could help to change public opinion and boost more widespread adoption of these technologies.

Citigroup, McAfee and, more recently, insurance company USAA are among the companies using biometrics, said Walter Hamilton, vice chairman of the International Biometrics & Identification Association (IBIA). IBIA is a Washington-based trade group that promotes the effective use of biometrics.

Casinos are using facial recognition technology to identify known cheats, and a hotel in Spain uses fingerprint scanning to provide room access to its guests, Hamilton said.

Despite the naysayers and skeptics, Apple’s announcement last week of biometrics features in its latest iPhone is a landmark event in biometrics, said Joseph Atick, chairman of the Identity Council International. The fact that Apple’s iPhone 5s can read a fingerprint using integrated sensors isn’t revolutionary, Atick said. The significance is that biometrics is being used by one of the most visible brands and is integrated in one of the most visible consumer products.

“If this feature and implementation proves to be reliable, effortless and user friendly, it will instantly create a huge population of biometric-experienced ... users,” Hamilton said.

“Apple put its reputation behind biometrics,” Atick said. He warned there would be bumps ahead for Apple and even some initial backlash against the biometrics industry, but “any way you look at it, it’s a leap forward.”

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