German railway tests biometric technology

The German railway company is testing technology to scan crowds using biometric facial recognition technology.

Terrorists attempting to smuggle bombs into trains could be stopped in their tracks by intelligent surveillance technology being tested by German railway company Deutsche Bahn.

"We're a couple of weeks into a pilot project that is testing technology designed to automatically detect terrorists or other criminals entering trains and alert security personnel," Jens Puls, director of corporate security at Deutsche Bahn, said Monday at the Systems IT trade show in Munich.

The project comes on the heels of foiled attempts to bomb two German regional trains in July, Puls said. German investigators have meanwhile learned that the terrorists had planned to bomb trains during the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany earlier this year but decided to wait because of the country's tight security measures during the games.

In the Deutsche Bahn test in Mainz, special cameras scan the train station in search of 200 people who have volunteered to have their pictures stored in a database and features detected by special biometric facial recognition software.

The technology could help Deutsche Bahn pinpoint suspected terrorists among the 1.8 million passengers traveling by train each day and take action, according to Puls.

On the biometric front, Germany is active in other areas, too.

In November 2005, the country introduced a new biometric passport, valid for 10 years, which includes an embedded RFID (radio frequency identification) chip.

Initially, the chip will store a digital photo of the passport holder's face. Beginning in 2007, the holder's left and right index fingerprints will also be stored on the chip.

In a future step, slated for 2008, additional biometric data is to be added, including iris and some genetic information.

Germany is the largest market for biometric products, according to the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (Bitkom). The country had sales of Euro 100 million (AUD$166 million) in 2005, which are expected to grow 25 percent annually through 2010.

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