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Federal Biometric ID Cards Get Iris Scan Option

National Institute for Standards and Technology has revised specifications for the proposed federal employee and contractor authentication system, including a new option to fingerprinting.

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Biometric ID cards being developed for federal employees and contractors may include iris scanning in addition to fingerprinting, according to updated specifications released by the federal organization for IT standards.

A new draft of Special Publication 800-76-2 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) includes a clause that would require the use of iris scanning as biometric identification if a person doesn't have fingerprints or if fingerprinting is problematic, according to the document.

The document includes specifications for iris images stored both on and off the personal identity verification (PIV) cards people will use to confirm their identity; for iris capture devices; for the semantic properties of an iris image; for an iris image capture interface; and for an iris recognition interface.

The new draft also includes specifications for an option agencies have to add an algorithm that would provide on-card comparison of fingerprints rather than requiring a personal identification number (PIN) when checking someone's credentials.

The original set-up for the system required a cardholder to enter a PIN number to check card credentials against a card reader. The new draft allows for agencies to choose to include an algorithm on the card that would eliminate the need for PIN entry to check credentials, according to the new draft.

Specifications for the on-card option support an earlier draft outlining the specifics of the federal PIV system, FIPS 201-2, which was released March 8.

That document "does not require PIN entry ahead of a fingerprint minutiae on-card comparison transaction" and "extends on-card comparison as an alternative to PIN entry in altering the state of the PIV card," according to Special Publication 800-76-2.

The federal government is developing biometric ID cards as mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. The directive is aimed at increasing security and efficiency, reducing identity fraud, cutting costs, and protecting personal privacy by requiring biometric identification for all federal employees and contractors when entering federal facilities or IT networks and systems.

Cybersecurity is a chief concern of the federal government, and the biometric identity system is one of many steps it's taking to provide more security both internally and externally.

The new draft is open for public comment until May 22. People can submit comments to NIST by emailing patrick.grother@nist.gov.

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