Bush pushes biometrics for national security

The Bush administration has required agencies to increase their capability to share among themselves biometric information on people believed to pose a threat to national security.

A presidential directive issued June 5 requires the increased compatibility of methods agencies use to collect, store and share fingerprints, face and iris recognition data and behavioral characteristics to identify and screen “known and suspected terrorists.” The directive also applies to other categories of individuals the directive said would be identified soon who may also pose a threat to national security.

The National Security Presidential Directive 59/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 24's purpose is to create a "framework" to ensure that agencies are using mutually compatible and legal methods  for sharing biometric information, the document states.

The directive also explained that although existing name-based screening approaches are beneficial, biometric technologies can improve agencies’ ability to identify and screen people believed to threaten national security.

Agencies are required by the directive to make available for sharing with other agencies — to the extent legally permitted — all biometric and associated biographical information for individuals about whom authorities have an “articulable and reasonable suspicion that they pose a threat to national security.” 

Under the directive, the State, Defense, Homeland Security and Justice departments, as well as the Office for the Director of National Intelligence, also must use common information technology and data standards, protocols and interfaces to enhance interoperability.

Agencies are expected to follow all existing laws for determining when an individual’s biometric and biographic information can be shared, the directive adds. It does not give new authorities to agencies and does not place its requirements on state, local and tribal authorities or the private sector.

Bush gave the attorney general, in coordination with the secretaries of State, Defense, DHS, the DNI and the White House 90 days to craft a plan to implement the initiative that will include:

  • Recommending actions and timelines for enhancing terrorist-orientated screening through biometrics.

  • Recommending categories of individuals beyond “known and suspected terrorists” which may pose a threat to national security and come up with a plan for expanding the use of biometrics to identify and screen those people — consistent with applicable law.

  • Determining the business processes, technological capabilities and research and development to needed to implement this directive.

The departments and agencies have a year to give the president a progress report on the directive’s implementation.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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