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Biometrics firms step up efforts to lobby agencies

Amid a major federal effort to track potential terrorists, several biometrics companies--firms that make devices for scanning fingerprints, faces and other body parts--have retained lobbyists to help acquaint federal executives with their products.

Atlanta-based AcSys Biometrics has hired two lobbyists from Barnes & Thornburg, an Indianapolis-based law firm: John Edgell, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; and Jeff Taylor, a former aide to Rep. David McIntosh, R-Ind.

Another company, 3rd Millennium, has retained veteran Democratic lobbyist Jim Davidson.

In the meantime, the industry's three-year-old trade group--the International Biometric Industry Association--is trying to boost the industry as a whole.

AcSys makes a system that recognizes faces by comparing facial dimensions to a database of scanned mug shots. It is entering into a partnership with another company, Maximus, to propose a "smart card" identification system.

"We've been making the rounds with the homeland security-related agencies," Edgell said, specifically citing the Federal Aviation Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service and the Secret Service.

Edgell and Taylor have also been working on Capitol Hill, where Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., have proposed major INS reforms.

Kansas City-based 3rd Millennium wants to offer a card with a digital photo, numerical identifier code and a chip that stores a biometric image of the cardholder's finger.

Initially, the system would be geared towards confirming the identities of foreign nationals and airport employees, said Mike Stock, a managing member of the company who visited Washington this week.

The system could be expanded for use by the general, flying public he added, with the assurance that-for privacy reasons-it would not be able to provide fingerprint images of a good enough quality to be of help in ordinary police investigations.

"It's a system that's proven and ready to go, and I think it certainly meets the unique demands of the moment," Davidson said.

Stock, who was referred to Davidson by a Kansas City law firm, told Government Executive that selling his product to federal decision-makers "would be very difficult without having professional lobbyists in the D.C. area."

In the meantime, at IBIA, "everyone associated with the association has been deluged with requests for advice and counsel, and particularly to testify at hearings before Congress and to meet with executive branch agencies, to discuss the uses of biometrics to detect and deter terrorists," said a senior official with the group.

IBIA representatives have already testified before two Senate Judiciary subcommittees, and "we have all kinds of requests pending with no fixed dates set."

One lobbyist added that while interest in biometric technology among agency officials is high, federal executives are so busy dealing with terrorism-related issues that it's hard to secure time to demonstrate their products and services.

"It matters how you happen to catch people and what time you catch them," the lobbyist said.