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Secretary of Homeland Security Calls for Speedy Development of Biometrics Standards

New York, Jan 21, 2005

In remarks delivered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday, January 12, 2005, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge reflected not only on his two years in office, but also a view of the future that is focused on international cooperation in homeland security. One of the positive results of the cooperative efforts that Ridge identified is the single world standard for ship and port security.

The Secretary also called for the development of common international standards of biometrics, “and the sooner the better.”

Under the leadership of the ANSI-accredited standards developer, the InterNational Committee for Information Technology, and the ANSI-accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC -----------,

An excerpt of the Secretary’s speech follows:

Biometrics is a remarkable, tremendous technological tool the use of which cannot only accurately identify and cross-check travelers and potential terrorists before they enter our countries, but biometrics also provide increased travel document security and guard against identity theft. We've already seen through our U.S. Visit

Program that biometric information can provide an additional layer of security while at the same time bring travelers across our borders with both grater ease and greater convenience.

Since the beginning of this year the U.S. Visit has processed more than 17 million legitimate passengers, and since the program began more than 370 criminals and immigration violators have been stopped at our borders.

More recently we've established a Registered Traveler Program that provides frequent travelers an opportunity to voluntarily provide -- to voluntarily provide biometric information as well as some background personal information that can be used to perform a security check against law enforcement and terrorist watch lists. We've got the five pilots running. People give us finger scans, an iris scan, a little background information. We use that to confirm their identity, a quick background check, and there's no secondary screening for these individuals.

We're in the business of managing the risks. You cannot possibly eliminate the risk but you can make reasonable judgments based on information that you have and information that is voluntarily provided to you. The more we can go to that approach and then focus our human and technological resources on people that we don't know anything about, I think frankly the safer not only commercial aviation will be, but the safer the country will be.

As I said before, we use that fingerprint and iris scan. I've actually enrolled in the program myself, although I do expect in the near future to be standing in line with a large cup of coffee waiting to get through. [Laughter]. But I know while I'm standing there the people at the TSA and Admiral Stone are working very hard not only to improve security but also to continue to make improvements in providing courteous and professional security coverage of all those people and all that baggage that we've put on board our airplanes.

The program has been widely popular and successful, and frankly one of the reasons I'm going to Europe is to launch a similar program of an international version at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. Again, if we can get the world community engaged in a common standard using biometrics, I think we open the door for not only greater security but grater cooperation.

In spite of these initial successes with biometrics, we must mutually produce a set of international standards for capturing, analyzing, storing, reading, sharing, and protecting the sensitive information in order to ensure maximum interoperability between systems and maximum privacy for our citizens.

For the complete text of this speech, please click here.

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