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US Congress Considers Implementation of Biometrics at Airports

As congressional negotiators try to resolve differences in House and Senate bills to improve aviation security, lawmakers are considering additional steps to make airports and airlines safer. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee heard testimony about new technology that could be used to identify potential terrorists before they enter the United States.

Lawmakers are beginning to consider new technology known as biometrics as a way to expand security for air travelers.

Biometrics involves computers that identify individual physical characteristics, such as the face, fingerprint or iris.

Such information could then be matched against a database to help identify potential terrorists before they enter the country. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information, is a co-sponsor of a bill that would do just that. "One use for these technologies is in the immigration area, where by using biometric identifiers, we can conclusively confirm the identity of those seeking entry into the United States," he said. "Impersonation would be dramatically curtailed, if not eliminated altogether."

Michael Kirkpatrick, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Criminal Justice Information Systems Division, agrees that such technology could enhance security. He explained exactly how such a process would work. "Live scan fingerprint devices could be deployed out at the embassies and consulates to take 10 fingerprints and also capture a digital photograph of the individuals applying for visas in their home countries," he said. "Those could then be transmitted to the FBI for a criminal check. When the person arrives in our country at the airport or seaport, they could put down one fingerprint which could be used to verify that the person who the checks were done on prior to them coming to our country is in fact the person who shows up at our borders to enter our country."

Meanwhile, the acting deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Monte Bolger, says some U.S. airports have already integrated biometrics into their security programs.

He says Chicago's O'Hare airport is using a pilot program for fingerprint identification in its security checks for cargo truck deliveries. He also says Charlotte International Airport in North Carolina is testing a program using iris recognition to verify employee identification before allowing access to secure areas.