Biometrics for access control is knocking on the door

After a 90-day Army pilot program, provost marshal general concludes: “This is the future.”

Army biometric pilot Mark Center

The Defense Department’s biometrics program primarily focuses on the use of biometrics as a countermeasure — to identify potential adversaries in the field — but the Pentagon also is testing its use for access control.

In mid-January, the Army concluded a 90-day pilot program for employing scans for base access control. Since October, employees and visitors at the VIP entrance of the Defense Department’s Mark Center in Northern Virginia had used iris and fingerprint readers — along with their ID cards — to enter. 

“Scannees” included the Provost Marshal General, Maj. Gen. David Quantock, and Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency Director Don Salo.

"This is the future, no doubt," Quantock said after opening a door with his iris and fingerprint, and without glitches.

The system allowed users to choose iris or fingerprint — along with their ID cards — reducing the chance of someone being unable to use the system to nearly zero, according to the Army.

Lessons learned from the pilot are to be applied toward biometric access at the Pentagon and other DOD installations.

"Cards are great for access controls, but they don't provide high or medium assurance," said Ryan Breeden, acting Pentagon Force Protection Agency branch chief for Identity Credential Access Management. In the pilot program, biometrics ensured that persons presenting credentials were the proper owners. 

More than 1,800 individuals used the entrance during the pilot program, totaling more than 10,000 separate building entries. Despite the volume and real-world conditions, the system held up. "We haven't been able to break it -- and that's a good thing," Breeden said.

The Mark Center opened in 2011 with the long-term intention of implementing biometric access control throughout the facility. With support and funding from DFBA's predecessor organization (the Biometrics Identity Management Agency), access control points were built with mounts for biometric readers and even with marks on the floor showing users where to stand.