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Possible biometrics database main topic at high-tech roundtable

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

FAIRMONT -- A Harrison County location and a focus on body-based methods of identification are not the only things the Department of Defense Biometric Fusion Center shares with the local FBI fingerprint complex.

Should the federal government give the nod, the Biometric Fusion Center will become the national repository for military biometric records, according to John Woodward Jr., director of the center's Pentagon-based umbrella agency, the Biometrics Management Office. The FBI complex already has the largest repository of criminal biometric records in the world.

"It would be DOD-related," Woodward said of the potential new database. He was in Fairmont Wednesday to speak at the West Virginia High Technology Consortium's monthly Roundtable luncheon.

He noted it would not be geared to include records such as those needed if the U.S. develops a national identification card. Since Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism, there has been local speculation that any such card would be based in North Central West Virginia because of the heavy biometric presence already along the Interstate 79 corridor.

Woodward told the group, which was primarily made up of technology company representatives, that a DOD biometric database could be invaluable, particularly for overseas military sites. For example, if a foreign national approaches the DOD for civilian employment or to offer intelligence, access to a biometric record like a fingerprint could help protect the DOD from doing business with a terrorist or others with questionable intentions.

He believes biometric identifiers also will eventually be more important in tracking who is where at a defense facility. For example, a person may not be able to access a computer by fingerprint unless the same fingerprint passed through physical points of entry such as a property gate and a building door in the recent past.

Both such uses, in turn, would be intended to keep the military's people and information safer.

"That is what we are committed to," he said.

Woodward said the DOD is also interested in using the Biometric Fusion Center -- which currently focuses on testing commercial identification software for military use -- as a point of communication with other federal agencies. He noted he and center staff have met with local FBI officials about a dozen times since October.

"Particularly when it comes to fingerprints, the FBI is the center for excellence and we want to learn from their experience," he said.

The Biometric Fusion Center's association with the FBI is poised to grow in another way. As previously reported in The Exponent Telegram, the center will begin building its permanent facility on the FBI grounds in 2006.

Clarksburg native Sam Cava directs the center, which is planned to eventually employ as many as 200 workers.

Regional Editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.