U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-WV, announced Tuesday that, as part of an initiative to shore up the security of its computer systems, the U.S. Army plans to establish an office for its new biometrics program in West Virginia.

“Within the next few months, one of my dreams for West Virginia will begin to take shape. In that time, the Army hopes to open the first of its `Biometrics Fusion Center’offices. A three to seven person Test and Evaluation facility is planned for North Central West Virginia. This office should provide West Virginia an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a growing industry,”Byrd said.

The science of biometrics uses unique physical traits such as a fingerprint, voice print, the pattern of veins in one’s wrist, or the network of nerves in the iris of one’s eye as forms of identification.

When a computer network has a biometrics security system, an individual’s identity must be authenticated through such physical traits to gain access to the system.

“I hope that West Virginia will become firmly planted in the forefront of this effort. Not too long ago, biometrics was strictly the stuff of science fiction movies. But what people can dream, others can invent. Biometrics is quickly moving from fiction to reality. West Virginia has the opportunity to embrace this state-of-the-art technology, and to lead in its development,”Byrd said.

“Biometrics is the next generation of cyber access and identification. This technology will become one of the significant advancements in the protection of military computers and information systems,”stated David Borland, Army Deputy Chief Information Officer, noting that the Army hopes to use biometrics in all of its critical computer and weapons systems.

During the last 18 months, Byrd has worked closely with the Department of Defense (DoD), in particular the Army, to help develop a plan to combat the growing threat to important government computer systems by”hackers”or”cyber-terrorists.”

“At a time when the nation’s most sensitive military and national security secrets are vulnerable to an enemy nation or organization through covert computer attacks, improvements to protect these computer systems are vital. The plan that I devised with the DoD would replace the current computer security system of passwords and cards with biometric information,”Byrd said.

Following a recent meeting at the Clarksburg FBI complex of the Army’s 60-member ad hoc committee on biometrics, the Army formalized plans for the Biometrics Fusion Center, including an office in North Central West Virginia. It has also created an electronic mail address( biometricsoffice@HQDA.Army.mil ) to provide the public with direct access to information about the initiative.

“As a result of this committee’s effort, we have formalized the programmatic direction of the Army’s biometrics initiative, which includes developing a project management office, developing the early stages of the Biometrics Fusion Center, and initiating academic opportunities with West Virginia University,”Lieutenant General William H. Campbell, Army Chief Information Officer, explained.

“If all goes as planned, a fully operational Biometrics Fusion Center would eventually include a repository to store securely biometrics information for military information systems,”said Phillip Loranger, the Army Biometrics Director.

Loranger added that the Army hopes to involve local industries and WVU , which has established a comprehensive forensics studies program that could serve as a foundation for biometrics education and research.

“We want to partner with West Virginia University to encourage postgraduate studies in the field of biometrics,”Loranger said.