Cover: Biometrics


Facing Up to Terrorism

Published 2001

by John D. Woodward

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Biometric-based systems will become increasingly important tools for identifying known and suspected terrorists. One tool to counter the threat of terrorism is the use of emerging biometric technologies. "Biometrics" refers to the use of a person's physical characteristics or personal traits--such as fingerprints, faces, voices, or handwritten signatures--for identification. Biometric-based systems provide automatic, nearly instantaneous identification of a person by converting the biometric into digital form and then comparing it against a computerized database. This issue paper offers recommendations as to how biometric technologies can be used to improve security and thereby help safeguard our communities against future terrorist attacks. Specifically, it discusses how biometric technologies could be used to impede terrorism in three critical areas: (1) controlling access to sensitive facilities at airports, (2) preventing identity theft and fraud in the use of travel documents, and (3) identifying known or suspected terrorists. There is no high-tech silver bullet to solve the terrorism problem. And it is very doubtful that facial recognition or other biometric technologies could have prevented the terrorist attacks on September 11th. But to the extent we can improve access control at sensitive facilities such as airports, reduce identity theft and immigration fraud, and identify known or suspected terrorists, then we make terrorism more difficult in the future.

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