SSA testing biometric tech

The Social Security Administration is considering using biometric technology to help it protect people's Social Security numbers and prevent identity theft.

Three SSA field offices are testing different biometric technology, such as photographs and fingerprints, that the agency could use to tie a person to his or her Social Security number, said William Gray, deputy commissioner for systems at SSA.

The biometric information would be stored in a database — not on the card itself — and would help prevent identity theft, Gray said, speaking March 5 at the Information Processing Interagency Conference in Orlando, Fla.

However, an SSA spokesman said March 8 that a final decision on testing has not been made and pilots have not begun.

SSA is "at the early stages of researching" biometric technology and it has not been put into a "real-world situation," the spokesman said.

The tests will help SSA decide where the use of biometrics is most beneficial, and also help it decide what type of biometric technology works best, Gray said.

If the limited pilot program is successful, it would be used broadly when people apply for Social Security cards, Gray said.

SSA also is looking into what types of Social Security cards would be harder to counterfeit than today's paper cards, Gray said.

This testing process shows SSA's incremental approach to launching services. For instance, it has established an electronic technology center so it can test and evaluate new technology such as biometrics before it rolls it out for testing in a real-life situation, Gray said.

SSA also has a usability center that helps it "design applications that meet users needs," Gray said.

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