Inadmissible aliens, some seeking asylum, are processed by CBP officers at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Nov. 23, 2018. (Mani Albrecht/CBP)

CBP, Others Snatching Up ‘More Powerful Biometrics in Smaller and Smaller Packages’ for Quick, Mobile ID

Biometrics industry trends are responding to agencies’ desires for emerging technology that’s more compact, more efficient, affordable, easy to maintain and, perhaps most critical in an on-the-go world, is highly mobile.

Integrated Biometrics, headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C., announced at the start of the recent Connect:ID conference in Washington that Customs and Border Protection bought Kojak — the company’s compact, light emitting sensor 10-print scanner — to be used at more than 5,000 workstations at the country’s 328 ports of entry. Airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Northern Virginia, Los Angeles and Miami are already using the fingerprint scanners.

Joining the product named for a New York TV detective are fingerprinting scanners with other familiar crime-busting monikers: Sherlock, Watson, Columbo and the Five-0, a small 10-fingerprint scanner that can charge off a cop’s smartphone.

“CBP was expressing interest all along because they were smaller, lightweight, could work off the power of a phone or a tablet, easy to plug in. Our relationship with them started years ago,” CEO Steve Thies told HSToday about the partnership. When Kojak was developed amid CBP’s interest in expanding the scanners’ use, he said, “they were happy to see the technology was coming along.”

“They evaluated us, liked us and decided to use us,” he said, adding CBP was looking for fast, simple access solutions at choked points of entry in line with the agency’s goal to collect 10-prints on all new visitors to this country.

While facial recognition software and hardware comprised much of the emerging technology at the expo, Thies noted that fingerprints hold a special place in identification tech because of image-quality standards that make scanners interoperable.

That technology is far from the ink-rolled prints of the past. Along with “more powerful biometrics in smaller and smaller packages,” the location of that technology can range from kiosks to mobile handheld devices and gadgets that can interface with a smartphone. “I do see mobility as a major driver… the equipment, the stuff that we interface with has got to be there,” the CEO said.

“Our technology’s going to keep evolving … what we plan to do is continue to make more mobile, more lightweight products that fill all the niches,” Thies continued, adding that he sees “commercial enterprises evolving – what’s good for the government is going to be good for commerce, too, and depending on the size of the database we see a broad array of different types of applications and therefore a broad array of customized solutions for those folks.”

And while the “whole concept of biometric service providers is a concept finding its traction,” he sees biometric service providers “much like you have cell phone service providers or home security service providers.”

Thies said he’s confident about the future of biometric procurement at DHS, particularly considering Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan comes from CBP. “These folks who have been put in charge understand technology, they understand the evolving need for the use of biometrics and I think that’s good for the industry, I think it’s good for the country, and I think it will be good for the users of the technology,” he said.

“I think our government is going to keep deploying technology where it makes sense. It’s just here to stay,” he added. “Immigration, social services, there’s a lot of fraud still in places in our government.” A current grant, he noted, is exploring how biometrics could cut an estimated billion dollars’ worth of fraud each year in the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Thies said that when he peruses government grants “there’s always something going on in the biometric space.”

In the commercial sector, Thies sees standards evolving and eventually following some government-proven standards system. Mobility, affordability, and ease of use will be key drivers for applications such as using a fingerprint to start a car, get on the metro, or use a grocery store loyalty card.

As privacy advocates continue to weigh in and pressure the industry, Thies predicts there will be some sort of facial recognition standards. While giving one’s fingerprints is straightforward and familiar, “your personal beliefs might drive your willingness to opt in with facial recognition,” he noted.

Thies’ advice for biometrics startups? “You can’t quit. You’ve got to believe in it, you’ve got to stick with it, you’ve got have cash, you’ve got to have good investors – patient investors. You’ve got to find good people who work hard. Getting good mentors for young start-ups is really important.”

“You’ve got to have something special. Our industry is ruled by four major companies … the good news is the giants move slow, and the little guys move fast. Little guys aren’t tied up by bureaucracy,” he said. “There’s room for both. Little guys, you’ve got to have something good, you’ve got to have something unique, you’ve got have something special, you’ve got to have a real advantage – not cosmetic, it’s got to be real.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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