Experts call for global biometrics agency

The increasing use of biometrics at national borders has prompted calls for an agency to guarantee a common experience for travellers

Biometrics experts have called for an international standards agency to monitor usage of the technology to ensure that it is deployed as efficiently as possible across multiple countries.

Speaking at the Biometrics 2005 conference in London on Thursday , Julian Ashbourn, chairman of the International Biometric Foundation, said an 'equivalence of process' would mean that travellers would experience the same types of procedures when entering different countries.

"How equivalent is the data policy across countries? .We need a global agency to guarantee equivalence of process between countries," Ashbourn said.

Ashbourn went on to argue international cooperation on biometrics could reduce processing times and cut down the chances of mistakes being made and individuals being wrongfully detained.

Common processes would make it easier for different countries deploying similar biometric systems to share information; a global agency would then be able to monitor and control how, and with who, countries were able to distribute biometric data.

"What information do governments share? With whom is my data shared and why?" All of these questions need to be addressed by an agency with global powers, according to Ashbourn.

There is also the danger that international travellers going to countries with different political regimes may be subject to varying penalties for failing a primary biometric identity check, warned Ashbourn.

"If I fail border biometric identity checks, am I going to be gently questioned, or handcuffed and stuffed in a cell for 72 hours?" he said.

Also speaking at the three day conference was Robert Mocny, deputy director of the US-VISIT programme, US Department of Homeland Security. He agreed with Ashbourn's calls for an international body to monitor biometric usage. "Currently there is no body, but you'll see shortly there will be one. The EU is going to start using biometric passports, and other countries will follow. That needs coordinating," he said.

US border authorities already use biometric identification techniques in the form of fingerprint scans. Biometric data in the US is collated in decentralised databases.

"We're starting the process of biometrifying [sic] a good proportion of the world population," explained Mocny.