Clean Fingerprints

Spotlight on Biometrics

With a litany of passwords to remember, it's understandable that workers in the Cypress Police Department in California didn't always take full advantage of the variety of databases and applications available to them.

The resources include state and federal databases, photographs, criminal history and location information, all of which have different criteria and naming requirements, says Sgt. Tom Bruce of the department's operations division. "We have upward of 20 passwords that we have to memorize or write down on a cheat sheet, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of security," he says.

But a fingerprint is something that users can't lose, forget or share. The Cypress Police Department solved its password problem with biometric fingerprint readers and accompanying software from Digital Persona. Biometrics are increasingly being used in public safety to meet the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services security mandates for strong authentication and to improve productivity, says Jim Fulton, vice president of marketing at Digital Persona. Healthcare and motor vehicle departments are also turning to biometrics.

Authenticating Identity

The department launched Digital Persona fingerprint readers and the Digital Persona Pro suite of security applications about five years ago. "We needed something that would streamline our passwords and provide us security at the same time," Sgt. Bruce says. Clerical workers, investigators and staff at the station use the fingerprint readers at their desktops, while officers access readers mounted to the dashboard of police cruisers. The readers are mounted to the dashboard with Velcro.

Bruce found the manufacturer receptive to tweaking the device to make it more suitable for field deployment. For example, the first-generation readers had a light that illuminated the cruiser and compromised officer safety, so the manufacturer quickly issued firmware to dim the light.

Cypress registered all users' thumbs and index fingers. Desktop users find it easiest to authenticate using their index fingers, while a thumb works best in squad cars because the readers are mounted next to the steering wheel.

"The main benefit is productivity, though you can't ignore the security aspect of it," Sgt. Bruce says. The readers have worked so well that the department intends to refresh the deployment with new Digital Persona readers and software in the near future.

Flashy Biometrics

USB flash drives offer great convenience to state and local government workers who need to transport large files, but also pose significant risks if the devices aren't properly secured. That's why encrypted USB drives are a must for protecting sensitive data.

The Imation Defender F200 biometric flash drive offers two-factor authentication -- password and fingerprint identification. Available in capacities ranging from 2 gigabytes to 32GB, the device is FIPS 10-2, Level 3 validated for the most stringent security. The ergonomic swipe sensor with hardware-based matching is housed in a tamper-resistant, waterproof, rugged case. However, the separate cap that protects the sensor gives users one more thing to potentially lose.


"Officers in the field will be able to access fingerprints, facial and iris recognition databases with an iPhone."

-- Sheriff Joseph McDonald Jr., Plymouth County, Mass.

"Biometrics allows Bergen [County, N.J.] to use a simple one-finger scan to improve the speed of service to clients and increase responsiveness to funders."

-- Kathleen Donovan, county executive, Bergen County, N.J.

"Incorporating a facial recognition system to the issuance of driver's licenses and identification cards in Illinois has been extremely helpful in the fight against fraudulent activity."

-- Jesse White, secretary of state, Illinois

By the Numbers


Number of handheld fingerprint scanners purchased by the Florida Highway Patrol

Source: Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles


Portion of North American biometrics market stemming from the government/law enforcement sector in 2009

Source: Frost & Sullivan

$1 million

Amount the state of Wisconsin is spending to install fingerprint scanners in childcare facilities to reduce fraud

Source: Wisconsin Department of Children and Families


Total biometrics market revenue attributed to fingerprint technology

Source: Frost & Sullivan


Number of major international biometrics standards that have been developed and approved in the past 25 years

Source: "Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities" (National Research Council of the National Academies, 2010)

3 to 4 years

Estimated time frame by which facial recognition and iris recognition implementation will significantly increase

Source: Frost & Sullivan

<p>Ale Ventura/Glow Images</p>
Mar 31 2011