Guest Commentary

Biometrics and the war on terror
Tuesday, April 1, 2003

The false licenses, passports and other identification documents
used by the 9/11 terrorists forced us all to wake up to a sobering new reality – that our open society may be permeated by malicious individuals who are not what they claim to be. Quickly closing these security breaches in our national security infrastructure must be a priority.

I’ve had the opportunity to become familiar with many aspects of national security, including 20 years in the Air Force working on security technology (including biometric) research programs for the DoD, to founding Iridian, a developer of iris recognition technology. Two things became clear to me over the past 35 years in observing the emergence of biometric technology - biometrics hold a huge potential for strengthening the security of our infrastructure systems at every level but until the tragic events of Sept. 11, few felt the pain and urgency needed to take biometrics seriously.

Ready for leadership?

In the wake of the inauguration of our war on terrorism, there are very few in the government and private industry that are ambivalent about the need to add some kind of biometric technology to their security programs. The problem is the federal government is in the throes of an unprecedented reorganization. To think that it will be ready to take a leadership role in the advancement of biometric in the near term is not practical.

The biometric industry itself is fragmented -  120 plus niche technology developers with little collaboration between them. This has hindered the development of technology standards that are critical to the acceptance and application of these promising, and many proven, products.

Practical technology

But there is a lot of good news as well. The biometrics industry has made huge advances in driving down the cost of its products into the realm of the practical for many applications. The BioAPI Consortium, an organization of biometric technology developers and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is developing the technical specifications that may develop into a set of universal standards addressing common interfaces to programming definitions. In fact, a number of companies claim to have developed products compliant with the latest BioAPI specifications for interoperability.

There are also a number of associations that I am involved with that are working on the legislative and educational fronts to establish a legal framework in which biometrics can be used by individuals instructed in their use.

Biometric bandwagon

Lest anyone accuse me of jumping on the biometric hype bandwagon the media rolled out shortly after 9/11, I will be the first to admit that there are numerous obstacles that must be overcome if we are to realize the potential biometrics offer.

There is a complex array of technology and vendors available to government agencies and private organizations that are responsible for security of the civilian infrastructure. Claims for performance and suitability that would solve a wide range of security problems are difficult to validate without a knowledgeable and unbiased advisory resource.

Lacking that knowledge and experience to enable an informed decision, government officials and business executives are left to choose technologies and applications based upon the best marketing approach or partial information. Inevitably, mistakes will be made, time lost, money wasted, and consequences that increase our vulnerability and even risk lives can result.

The National Biometric Security Project is filling that role as the knowledgeable, trusted advisor and welcomes opportunities to collaborate with the security dealer and integrator community.

John Siedlarz is the founder of the National Biometric Security Project ( The mission of the NBSP is to facilitate the application of positive human identification technology for the security of the civil national infrastructure in direct response to the international terrorist threat.

Siedlarz was a featured speaker at Amag Technology’s, formerly Group 4 Securitas, annual conference in Ponte Verda Beach, Fla. in early February.

Siedlarz can be reached at 202-638-6789 or