House office buys biometrics

The Office of Legislative Counsel for the House of Representatives is becoming the first on Capitol Hill to install biometric technology in order to protect confidential files and working documents by using iris scans to authenticate a person's identity.

The office has selected SAFLINK Corp.'s SAF2000 authentication software, a system that allows a customer to choose among a wide variety of security technologies, including fingerprints, speech verification and face recognition. The cost is $36,000.

"It's easy, and it will get us out of password jail," said Lynn Richardson, the office administrator. Until now, the office had been changing its passwords every three months, but the routine was a hassle because people couldn't remember their passwords. Richardson said the office had been looking for other ways to increase security.

The search became more critical after the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill last fall closed the office for more than a week. Officials scrambled to buy laptop computers for its staff of 50 people to continue working from other locations, but administrator were concerned that the laptops were not secure enough.

SAF2000 uses a biometrics suite for Microsoft Corp. Windows 2000/NT networks. The technology's iris recognition is patented, according to Matt Shannon, SAFLINK's manager of government services.

The office wanted the technology, Shannon said, due to the difficulty of changing passwords and restricting access to working documents until they were ready to be released to the public.

"Because documents created and held by the [office] are sensitive in nature, it is important that they be adequately secure," said Walter Hamilton, vice president of business development at SAFLINK. "We believe that our SAF2000 solution, combined with Panasonic Authenticam desktop iris recognition cameras, will provide the level of security required for this critical government application."

SAFLINK also is supplying similar biometric technology to other federal agencies, including the Defense, Justice and Energy departments as well as the intelligence community, according to Hamilton.

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