Proposed Standards Will Allow Government Agencies To Share Biometric Data

An interagency subcommittee of the White House's National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) issued a draft document recently that lists recommended standards to enable government agencies to easily share biometric data. The NSTC Subcommittee on Biometrics and Identity Management is requesting public comments on the draft by March 10.

Biometrics involve identifying individuals by unique characteristics such as fingerprints, faces, irises and palms. Because biometrics are unique and nearly impossible to forge, they help prevent fraud and identity theft. At the same time, they provide a convenient way for consumers to establish and verify their identities. Biometric technologies are increasingly being used to restrict access to secure work areas, to make identity documents such as passports or government IDs more tamper-resistant, and to conduct terrorism-related screening, check for prior criminal history, or assess whether an individual previously violated immigration law, as part of government program eligibility determinations or security risk assessments.

The NSTC Policy for Enabling the Development, Adoption and Use of Biometric Standards established a framework to reach interagency consensus on biometric standards for the federal government. It ensured that federal agencies such as the Departments of State, Justice, Defense and Homeland Security collect and exchange different types of biometric data in specific standardized formats. For example, the use of such standards ensures that biometric data on known or suspected terrorists collected by the Department of Defense in war zones are also useable by Department of Homeland Security’s screening operations at U.S. border crossings. The standards registry is the result of interagency analysis and deliberation on numerous, often contradictory, standards currently available, and specifies which standards U.S. government agencies should use.

Membership on the subcommittee charged with drafting the standards registry included representatives from 15 different U.S. government departments and agencies, and five different organizations in the Executive Office of the President. The NSTC Committee on Technology (COT) first established the subcommittee in 2002 to “advise and assist the COT, NSTC and other coordination bodies of the Executive Office of the President on policies, procedures and plans for federally sponsored biometric and identity management activities.” Additional information about the NSTC is available at www.ostp.gov/cs/nstc and about the subcommittee at www.biometrics.gov/nstc.

Specific sections of the registry recommend standards for data collection, storage and exchange; transmission profiles; requirements for identifying government employees and contractors; “plug and play” equipment standards; conformance and performance testing methodology standards and references. The standards registry is available at www.biometrics.gov/standards.

Vendors of biometric technologies, biometric researchers, law enforcement officials or others may send comments on the draft standard to standards@biometrics.gov by March 10. The subcommittee will review these comments and make any necessary adjustments to the registry before submitting it to COT for final approval.

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