The Loss Prevention Management program in the Criminal Justice department at NMU is bringing innovation and technology to the fore with its addition of Biometrics in Loss Prevention to the fall 2008 class schedule.
Biometrics is the study of security. It encompasses a multitude of applications, including easy identification of criminal suspects and protection from identity fraud. For example, when ordering something over the Internet, instead of putting in a credit card number, one would be asked to provide a fingerprint.
Sergeant Jay Peterson of the Marquette Forensic Laboratory is the instructor for the 300 level course. “Anything unique in your nature can be used to identify you,” he said. “Footprint, height, weight, facial scans, retina scans; some machines are being developed to measure and identify people by their gait – the way people walk. It’s amazing what’s possible.” Biometric information is much harder to fake and to hack. “When you order something on the Internet, everyone has your information, and everything can be hacked. This is a concern in Biometrics, but we’re trying to make it more secure,” said Peterson.
The need for biometrics developed in law enforcement. Criminals were evading the system and becoming repeat offenders. Although biometrics systems have been around since the 1700s, technology is advancing rapidly. “Every police station uses some form of biometrics. Everyone has seen a mug shot, and that’s a great example of early biometrics,” said Peterson.
Biometrics is applicable in both the public and private sectors. The law enforcement community has been investing in forms of biometrics for years, and is often on the cutting edge of new technology. “In the past few months, a great advance has been made in AFIS: automated fingerprint identity system. These are mobile or stand-alone units used in police stations, which allow digital fingerprint scans, faster results and easier use. The new system provides rapid results from national agencies, like the FBI, as well,” Peterson said.
Peterson explained that there were many different applications to biometrics, beyond the idea of catching a predator. “New advances in the technology allow us to identify hard to identify victims, such as burn victims, much more easily. Some agencies are using tattoos to keep track of gang activity. From checking out online to going through security at an airport, this will make things more secure,” said Peterson.
When it comes to matters of security, it seems a balance must always be struck between privacy and protection. “It’s the old adage: Big Brother is watching. I would rather have someone verify it is actually me making a purchase rather than assuming the credit card number is me,” said Peterson. “It shouldn’t take another 9/11 before people realize we have to do something to fight these problems. A terrorist could steal an identity and do terrible things with it. We have to take preventative measures now.”
Preventative measures are the name of the game in Biometrics. Peterson recalled the story of the Detroit Super Bowl. “A few years ago, the Super Bowl was in Detroit at Ford Field, and security at the park instated cameras and facial scanners. They scanned in pictures of about 1,500 known or suspected terrorists, and were able to scan faces of the over 85,000 people who went to the game.” The advantage to the new wave of biometrics is the ability to scan faces in real time, without the lengthy analysis of photos and old video.
Since the use of biometrics is so widespread in the private sector, unlike most law enforcement technology, Peterson believes the next wave of biometrics will be consumer driven. “As people become more aware of how common ID fraud is, I think they will want more security measures instituted. It’s just another way of conducting business,” said Peterson. As for privacy concerns, Peterson points out that new and improved security is about protection, especially in retail and sales. “People who are law abiding citizens will not be affected. As time goes on, you’ll want to shop somewhere that is protecting your money and your interests,” he said.
Sergeant Peterson explained that there is a huge competitive market for biometrics technology at this point in time. “The companies who are going to excel are those making equipment that works fast and has a reliable database – that’s what we need right now,” he said. “Lockheed Martin and the armed forces are doing lots of research into the use of biometrics technology, and it’s only going to continue growing.”View more Department Profiles