NSST aims to tackle biometric bogeyman perceptions

National Security Science and Technology department to gather public feedback

A government organisation that funds biometrics projects, such as tracking large groups of people congregating in one area, is planning to reach out to the community to lessen fears about biometric technology.

Speaking at the A/NZ Biometrics Institute conference in Sydney, Dr Helen Cartledge, told delegates that the National Security Science and Technology (NSST) wants community input in order to improve the perception of biometrics in Australia and also make policy changes.

“We want to discuss the community perception of biometrics technology in August this year in Canberra,” said the NSST senior adviser to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said. “The objective is to see the community view of biometrics and how they feel about its use.”

According to Cartledge, the feedback and research would influence future biometric policies of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

She conceded there were still fears about privacy issues when it came to biometrics. A 2011 member survey by the Biometrics Institute indicated that increased user acceptance (67.2 per cent) and technology advances (64.1 per cent) were considered the most significant developments by the industry over the previous 12 months.

The NSST focuses on science that can enhance Australia's national security. Part of this involves working with other government departments, such as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), which is currently collecting fingerprints and facial images from visa applicants in 10 overseas countries including locations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Another challenge for the NSST is increasing the awareness of current biometric technology availability as well as review ongoing national security and technology research programs.

“We also want to set up a biometrics working group to sit down and discuss what security and technology policies are needed,” Cartledge said. “The goal is to build linkages between national security agencies and the private sector.”

Since 2004, the NSST has funded 100 biometrics projects related to intelligence and surveillance to the tune of $60 million.

One such project conducted by the University of Western Australia (WA) involved applying algorithms to CCTV footage to detect the number of people assembling in a large group. "When you have hours and hours of CCTV footage to get through, you won’t know how many people are in that group," she said. "This program makes it easier to spot them."

Another project, partly funded by NSST and conducted by the CSIRO, is called Cybernose. This aims to produce an artificial 'nose' that can sense fingerprint olfactory patterns. The project is designed to aid the work of sniffer dogs and could be used to detect volatile chemicals and bombs.

According to Cartledge, CISRO plans to roll out the technology at airports in 2012.

Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at idg.com.au

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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