Will border, port access depend on driver-owned fingerprint ID systems?

| 12/3/2007

Picture a port trucker pressing his thumb onto a keychain-sized pad, which sends a remote signal to a sensor nearby. A gate opens, and the driver’s hazmat load rolls into the port.

The $150 pad can be used to open gates, unlock truck doors and even start an engine. Someday you just may carry one everywhere.

The Privaris plusID 90 is one of several biometric products being touted as the solution for truckers as technology and security concerns are combined with government mandates for programs such as TWIC. Photo courtesy of Privaris

At least that’s John Petze’s hope.

Petze, CEO of Privaris – a biometric security technology company – is hoping Privaris catches on as a functional, affordable way for truckers to gain port and warehouse access.

The company is one of dozens of technological firms offering products during what some have called a “biometric gold rush” as governments, ports of entry and private companies build concrete efforts to meet the voiced rhetoric of heightened national security following Sept. 11, 2001.

For years, truckers have heard they’d be subject to fingerprint scanning systems, retina scanners and other biometric technology seemingly inspired by an action adventure movie. One fingerprint scanning device was hacked after someone used gummy candy to pick up a fingerprint, then applied the candy to the optical scanner.

Petze says his company’s product is different.

“We just make it possible to much more reliably assure the identity of who is sitting behind the wheel,” Petze told Land Line.

The Privaris plusID 90 retails for a manufacturer’s suggested $150, and could replace paperwork inspections. The system can send a signal up to 40 feet away, and Petze says its ability to store and encrypt a fingerprint image far surpasses the famous failures of optical scanning fingerprint readers.

“Our device encrypts that image,” Petze said. “The Gummi Bears lifted off a drinking glass – that doesn’t work with this technology.”

Instead, Petze said, the plusID 90 sends an encrypted signal that meets the federal government’s standard for point-to-point security.

Petze discounted the phrase “biometric gold-rush,” adding that Privaris, incorporated in 2000, was developing biometric technologies before Sept. 11, 2001.

Petze said he recently returned from the Advanced Identity Technology – Commercial Biometrics trade show in Washington, DC, where he sensed a spirit of cooperation. Hundreds of vendors must partner to coordinate a mostly seamless flow of information from databases to various companies and security checkpoints, he said.

“I think what you see is a very serious attitude of lessons learned from years of previous generations of products and deployments to customers, and a very serious and concerted effort to address customer issues,” Petze told Land Line. “Not at all a feeling of a gold-rush time but a feeling of maturation.”

Mass market appeal
TSA’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC card, will be mandatory for all truckers who enter ports.

Petze is hopeful that the nation’s largest ports will see his company’s product as a way to ensure security while eliminating backlogs of trucks waiting to enter ports and terminals.

“In the future, industry and government have to solve this problem,” Petze told Land Line. “We can’t accomplish security by stopping commerce and having everyone sit in lines for hours to be identified.”

The Privaris plusID 90 is being tested at one military base on the East Coast, and several ports have inquired about the system, Petze said.

Wade Deisman is a professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada who also works as a consultant for the Privacy Commission of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Biometrics will be used in the trucking industry as much as government and industry decision-makers allow it to be used, Deisman said.

Full-scale implementation of biometrics devices isn’t likely to be applied in the U.S. the way it is in other parts of the world, Deisman told Land Line. In Hong Kong, every citizen is required to carry a citizenship card with biometric identifiers.

Still, generation after generation of biometric inventions has been hacked, he said.

“What we’ve seen time and time again are that these technologies that claim to be tamper-free, aren’t,” Deisman told Land Line.

Deisman remembered one biometric system that claimed it couldn’t be tampered with. Within two hours of a test, the system’s code had been cracked, Deisman said.

As government contracts combine with business needs to weed out the majority of biotechnical products, Deisman said even the cream of the crop isn’t entirely secure.
“Technological fixes are fallible in and of themselves,” he said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer