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SIBA: A Q&A with founder Janice Kephart


The Secure Identity & Biometrics Association (SIBA) recently launched and aims to provide proactive education, policy refinement and solutions to the complexities of balancing identity, security and protection with national security, public safety, economic strength, privacy and innovation.

The group was founded by Janice Kephart, a vocal border and ID security expert, who served as counsel to the 9/11 Commision and was a key author of the Staff Monograph, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel as well as the immigration-related facts and recommendations in the 9/11 Commission Report. She’s also a National Security Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Shortly after news broke that two stolen passports were used aboard the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 jet, the group released a statement arguing a system of biometric passports and borders are essential to improve safety and prevent the use of stolen passports.

The following is a Q&A from Kephart on the founding of SIBA and biometrics adoption in the U.S. and around the world.

Janice, why have you decided, now, to create a new organization on the issue of identity security and protection, incorporating the biometric, secure credential and identity assurance industries?

Since before 9/11 my work has involved issues of identity assurance. It started back when I worked for the US Senate as a counsel in the late 1990s and was tasked in the Terrorism and Technology Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee with updating the federal criminal identity theft law from just paper ID crimes, to digital crimes. At that time, we were looking for language to describe the nascent possibilities of internet identity theft, and digital identity theft. What we came up with in working closely with victims of identity theft, the banking industry and US Secret Service was indeed next generation language to fill the need. I was at the helm of getting that legislation passed by unanimous consent in the House and Senate, and signed by President Clinton. That federal criminal code became the basis for the FBI, USSS, and DOJ to prosecute all varieties of identity theft across the nation.

After 9/11, I was tasked by the 9/11 Commission to determine how the hijackers entered the country and were able to stay long enough to commit the heinous acts of 9/11. We found during the course of our investigation that faking passports, driver license applications, and using over 300 varieties of names helped the hijackers assimilate and operate under the radar while in the US, and also helped them board the planes on the morning of 9/11. We told these facts in our staff monograph, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel. Our recommendations in the 9/11 Final Report required the immigration system to “know that a person is who they say they are,” and we said outright that biometrics are a key to making that determination. Since that recommendation, I have watched the identity assurance business proliferate.

Since the Commission, most of the work I have done has included working on identity issues, including two years of lobbying on secure credential laws, testifying on Capitol Hill 16 times with every testimony either on or including identity issues. While I have an expertise in borders as well, the complexities of those issues are mirrored in the identity issues. Identity assurance is increasingly important the more remote our identity is from any variety of transactions we make as individuals, both online and off. Without good policy, thought leadership, and access to mainstream media, this industry may not emerge the economic innovators and winners it should. I found SIBA to help make that goal a reality.

What is SIBA and how does it fit into the DC players on this issue, such as the IBIA and the Secure ID Coalition?

SIBA brings unprecedented credibility and thought leadership to identity and biometric issues, which right now are struggling under misconceptions, fears, and in some cases, roll backs of key 9/11 Commission recommendations, or simply failure to implement others. I was asked to take on the role by vendors and Capitol Hill staff. Both the IBIA and Secure ID Coalition are much narrower organizations. The IBIA represents just the biometric and identification (card) industries. The Secure ID Coalition, just the smart cards and component parts. SIBA is representing all forms of identity assurance, protection and security solutions for the cyber, mobile and physical world, which include, but are not limited to, biometrics and credentials. We see ourselves as the future.

What are the biggest challenges SIBA sees in 2014 in America? 

Right now there are four main challenges SIBA must tackle in 2014 to help clear the air for identity assurance technologies to soar: (1) the misconception by consumers that use of biometrics “steals” an identity and creates an automatic gross violation of privacy, and thus requires some form of regulation; (2) the potential roll back of identity assurance laws, or failure to pursue identity assurance, in key issue areas such as immigration reform and healthcare; (3) a newly emerging fight in state legislatures whereby there is a push to ban biometrics in public schools altogether; (4) a simple misunderstanding about what biometrics are, what their capabilities are, their uses and benefits.

Do you view the US market as significantly different than the rest of the world in these issues?  If so, how and why? 

The rest of the world is embracing biometrics and identity assurance at a rapid pace, especially governments in borders, national identity programs, and voter ID. Implementation in some country provides identity to people who may never have had a document to prove who they are, enabling them to get a job, open a bank account, even buy property. In others, it is assuring border integrity as the 9/11 Commission recommended. Biometrics are also instilling integrity into voter programs, healthcare access and retail banking. America tends to be misinformed, and miseducated, about identity assurance products, and thus near all the national level implementations by other government and the commercial sector are not being enjoyed in the US. We have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world in accepting these innovations into our lives, and the benefits they bring.

If you could wave a magic wand, how would SIBA view the US role in the future of biometrics, secure credential and identity assurance products? 

As providing the bulk of the anticipated $20 billion market in biometrics, and building identity innovations for our future that are done so with built-in respect for privacy, security and protection. We need to secure borders for safe skies and to prevent easy access to target countries. We need to secure computers and banking against hacking. We need to prevent fraud in healthcare. We need to enable people to control their own data, who has access to it, and what it contains. We need to re-establish trust in relationships that are no longer face-to-face, and the US can and should lead that innovation for a safer, more protected and more convenient world.

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