Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Live from CNN: FBI wants palm prints, eye scans, tattoo mapping , Posted by Robert Paisola

FBI wants palm prints, eye scans, tattoo mapping

The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people's physical characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better identify criminals and terrorists.

But it's an issue that raises major privacy concerns -- what one civil liberties expert says should concern all Americans.

The bureau is expected to announce in coming days the awarding of a $1 billion, 10-year contract to help create the database that will compile an array of biometric information -- from palm prints to eye scans.

Kimberly Del Greco, the FBI's Biometric Services section chief, said adding to the database is "important to protect the borders to keep the terrorists out, protect our citizens, our neighbors, our children so they can have good jobs, and have a safe country to live in."

But it's unnerving to privacy experts.

"It's the beginning of the surveillance society where you can be tracked anywhere, any time and all your movements, and eventually all your activities will be tracked and noted and correlated," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Project.

The FBI already has 55 million sets of fingerprints on file. In coming years, the bureau wants to compare palm prints, scars and tattoos, iris eye patterns, and facial shapes. The idea is to combine various pieces of biometric information to positively identify a potential suspect.

A lot will depend on how quickly technology is perfected, according to Thomas Bush, the FBI official in charge of the Clarksburg, West Virginia, facility where the FBI houses its current fingerprint database. Watch what the FBI hopes to gain »

"Fingerprints will still be the big player," Bush, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, told CNN.

But he added, "Whatever the biometric that comes down the road, we need to be able to plug that in and play."

First up, he said, are palm prints. The FBI has already begun collecting images and hopes to soon use these as an additional means of making identifications. Countries that are already using such images find 20 percent of their positive matches come from latent palm prints left at crime scenes, the FBI's Bush said.

The FBI has also started collecting mug shots and pictures of scars and tattoos. These images are being stored for now as the technology is fine-tuned. All of the FBI's biometric data is stored on computers 30-feet underground in the Clarksburg facility.

In addition, the FBI could soon start comparing people's eyes -- specifically the iris, or the colored part of an eye -- as part of its new biometrics program called Next Generation Identification.

Nearby, at West Virginia University's Center for Identification Technology Research, researchers are already testing some of these technologies that will ultimately be used by the FBI.

"The best increase in accuracy will come from fusing different biometrics together," said Bojan Cukic, the co-director of the center.

But while law enforcement officials are excited about the possibilities of these new technologies, privacy advocates are upset the FBI will be collecting so much personal information.



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