by Juan Carlos Pérez

Biometric Use in Pinellas County, Fla., El Salvador

May 15, 20032 mins
IT Strategy

At the winter Biometrics Summit, chuckling starts when a TV clip shows cops using facial recognition technology to identify a suspect. During a high-speed chase. From a helicopter. Laughter erupts when the camera cuts to a computer screen returning a hit on the image and an officer exclaims, “100 percent confirmation!”

To attendees at the Miami Beach event, an otherwise serious-minded group, the clip is ridiculous. They note that biometrics?the use of IT to identify people using fingerprints, voice, face and hand geometry?has its limitations. (The applications aren’t 100 percent accurate, for starters. And technology standards and concerns about privacy also are potential limitations.) Nevertheless, two presenters at the event demonstrate real-life systems.

The Pinellas County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office, which covers St. Petersburg, employs facial recognition when booking suspects. When a suspect is brought in for booking, a camera takes several digital pictures of him. The camera operator chooses the best picture, and the system compares it with the almost 500,000 digital images stored in the agency’s mug shots database. In seconds, the system returns the 50 pictures that most resemble the subject.

The system (funded by $3.5 million in federal grants in 2001 and 2002) recently helped to identify a person who was in the database under four different names, says Scott McCallum, a systems analyst at the sheriff’s office. Agency employees use their PCs to access the Viisage Technology facial recognition system; images are stored in an Oracle 9i database.

El Salvador’s new ID cards use fingerprint authentication. The system has reduced fraud in the process of issuing citizen ID cards and by compiling citizen information in a central database, and helped government agencies identify people living and dead, says Felix Safie, president of the government’s Natural Persons National Register. To issue an ID card, the government collects two fingerprints, a digital signature and takes a photo of the person. It takes 30 minutes. The system is based on biometric technology from Printrak. A central back-end system stores the citizens’ information, including the fingerprint scans. It has redundancy and fault-tolerance features to avoid downtime and loss of data, Safie says. The country has issued more than 3 million IDs (for about half the population) since November 2001.