Butterfield Boosts Coast Guard Identification Technology

Oct 23, 2009
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – As part of the annual Coast Guard legislation, Congressman G. K. Butterfield today succeeded in adding language aimed at expanding the use of facial and iris scan identification technology.
“The Coast Guard needs to rapidly and accurately identify people in fulfilling its mission of protecting and supporting national security in ports, waterways and international waters,” Butterfield said. “This technology can provide another valuable tool needed protect our shores from potential dangers.”
Butterfield’s amendment to the FY 2010 Coast Guard Authorization, expands the definition of biometric identification beyond fingerprints and digital images to include facial and iris scan technology. The amendment further requires the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to study and report on the costs and benefits of the Coast Guard’s use of facial and iris recognition technology as part of the effort to quickly and accurately identify suspected terrorists and other criminals. He explained that conventional identification technologies such as fingerprints and digital photos coupled with emerging technology like facial and iris scans will enable the Coast Guard to more accurately identify individuals who have been apprehended to ensure rapid and positive identification.
“These technologies make it very difficult to conceal an identity,” Butterfield said. “Unlike fingerprints, names and dates of birth, our irises are unique and virtually impossible to duplicate.”
Butterfield also said that he hoped expanded use would boost companies like the Kinston, N.C.-based Spatial Integrated Systems, Inc., which are already developing this technology.
The House approved the bipartisan bill by a 385 to 11 vote, and the Senate is expected to take up and approve the legislation by year’s end.
The bill provides resources to strengthen the Coast Guard – authorizing $10 billion in funding for FY 2010 and increasing its authorized end-strength by 1,500 members to 47,000.
Butterfield said the legislation includes key provisions to enhance the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out its homeland security missions, including authorizing additional maritime security response teams, giving the Coast Guard a rapid force capability and authorizing additional canine detection teams to assist in detecting explosives and interdicting drugs.  
The bill incorporates the Alien Smuggling and Terrorism Prevention Act, which aims at combating alien smuggling and raises the federal penalties for alien smuggling from a misdemeanor to a felony. Additionally, the bill establishes marine safety as a core mission of the Coast Guard in statute and establishes minimum qualifications for training and experience for all marine safety personnel.
The bill also incorporates numerous “mini-authorizations,” which have been passed by the House and/or reported from committee earlier this year – including the Coast Guard Acquisition Reform Act, the Maritime Workforce Development Act, and the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.
In June, Butterfield successfully offered a similar amendment to the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act that requires the study of the benefits of combing face and iris recognition technologies in order to rapidly and accurately identify airline passengers. Under that amendment, the Transportation Security Administration was directed to identify any environmental or operational factors that might limit the technologies and to set devise procedures for obtaining biometric information.