Fifty-four of the world’s leading experts in biometrics gathered in Morgantown in May to define a research agenda for the future of the industry. On the table were discussions on effective human identification technologies already in use and others under development or yet to be deployed, methods for measuring the effectiveness of those technologies, privacy and civil liberties vs. personal and national security issues, and creating a workforce to sustain the industry’s growth as it becomes more mainstream.

Edwin Rood, director of the Biometric Knowledge Center at West Virginia, co-host of the three-day National Science Foundation-sponsored workshops, likened it to”a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff”from the industry.

Some of the early pioneers and leading experts in fingerprint identification, speech and facial recognition, DNA , iris scans and other forms of human identification were in attendance. They were joined by other scientists whose expertise dealt with society’s acceptance of new technologies and the ongoing debate over whether some of the new technology invades privacy or enhances security.

“Sept. 11 certainly raised the profile of biometrics, but many of us were working in it long before that,”said Jim Wayman, director of the Biometric Identification Research Program at San Jose State University. The tragedy of 9-11 and the ensuing War on Terrorism, he noted, accelerated the industry’s profile and work, leading to additional funding and the need for a”roadmap for responsible spending.”

In the information age, said John Woodward, a senior policy analyst with RAND , data and information about people has”great value.”

Many innocent people on death row have been freed with DNA testing; criminals have been identified through fingerprints on licences; and some European countries have even gone to national identification cards that embed biometric data to make them uniquely personalizeda concept some feel would aid in tracking potential terrorists.

These technologies also bring about privacy discussions, said Woodward, who wrote a book on the subject.

“Does this technology invade or enhance my privacy? How does what happens in society (like 9-11) influence technology and public acceptance? These are important issues.”

NSF program manager Gary Strong said the information gleaned from the workshops was of immense value and will provide the framework for a biometric research agenda that will be presented in September at a national Biometrics Symposium in Washington, D.C.

“It was not a coincidence that the conference was held in Morgantown, home to West Virginia University,”Dr. Wayman said.”This topic (biometrics) is high on Sen. Byrd’s and your Governor’s agendaand a reflection of the forward-looking leadership at WVU and the state’s aggressive support of emerging technologies. West Virginia is definitely a big player in the biometrics field.”

WVU is the leading higher education institution in this increasingly important industry because of its comprehensive research involving biometrics and its complimentary academic curricula leading to a one-of-a-kind degree in forensic identification with a major in biometrics.