Board Member Profile: Vice-Chair, Benji Hutchinson
1. How did you first get involved in the biometrics industry?
After finishing graduate school in 2004, I knew I wanted to join the Foreign Service. So I took a job with a small company named the Orkand Corporation, which had a State Department contract to deploy multimodal biometric sensors and software for visa and passport issuance at US embassies and consulates all around the world. On my first day, Orkand was acquired by the large systems integrator Harris, and I was afraid I’d be fired. But that fear was unfounded, and over the next two years at Orkland I learned quite a bit about the technology and traveled to nine countries and 14 different international cities across Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Guinea, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Singapore and Yemen. After cutting my teeth in biometric technology, I continued gaining experience in the industry, ultimately landing at NEC, where I support biometrics and identify intelligence programs for the Department of Defense.
2. As you look the biometrics industry today, what do you believe the biggest opportunities are in the coming 12-24 months?
Without a doubt, the biggest emerging opportunities in the near future are innovations around customer experience, digital transformation and border security. These opportunities are critically important for a variety of industries, including aviation, land and sea transportation hubs and ports, hospitality, health care, mobile platforms and retail. For decades, the public sector at the local, state and federal levels have driven growth in biometrics and those markets will continue to provide steady growth. But over time, we expect to see explosive growth in private sector and commercial markets as well.
3. With so much press attention being paid to biometric issues including facial recognition, what do you think federal policymakers need to know about the technology and its use by law enforcement agencies?
Federal policy makers should continue to be curious about the technology, learning how it works and how law enforcement is leveraging it today. The positive aspects and success stories of biometric technology are often overshadowed by negative hypothetical scenarios of things that could go wrong, as well as unfortunate examples of non-democratic foreign regimes who misuse the technology to oppress certain segments of a domestic population. I would urge policymakers to seek out the science behind the tech from multiple sources and practitioners, not just those sources and organizations who get quoted often by major media outlets.
4. What federal government agencies stand out as leaders on biometrics deployment, and why?
Today, the Department of Homeland Security is the leader in the deployment of biometric technology for the federal government. The scale and scope of the systems DHS is deploying have never been attempted elsewhere, and DHS and its component agencies have a diverse mission set spanning many domains like land, sea and air. These missions require innovative approaches to collecting, storing and matching various biometric modalities in often austere environments, whether that’s Border Patrol in a desert at the US southern border, CBP in a busy airport, or the Coast Guard at sea. Looking beyond their operational mission, DHS is deploying systems that process multiple modalities, including faces, fingerprints, irises and raid DNA samples. Many of these systems process vast amounts of data in cloud instances across the country. And these systems must be inter-operable with other federal agencies. All this is to say that DHS is on the cutting edge of federal government biometric technology today.
5. What do you think is the public’s single biggest misconception about biometrics, and how would you correct the record?
Currently, the single biggest misconception about biometrics is privacy. Privacy has become a highly debated issue in the main stream media, but there is an opportunity to involve more stakeholders and advance the dialogue around where we as an industry can better serve our customers and the general public with biometric solutions. Recent surveys conducted by the ITIF show that many Americans are concerned about data privacy, but are nevertheless supportive of biometric technologies if they increase security and enhance overall customer experiences. When biometric solutions are safe, secure, transparent and deployed in accordance with US law, most Americans are not only supportive of the technology – they are enthusiastic about them.
6. As Vice-Chair of IdTA, what do you hope to accomplish for the organization, and the industry?
My goal is to raise awareness around the positive benefits of this technology over the next 12 to 24 months. The next two years are critical to the mass adoption and acceptance of various biometric technologies across the public and private sectors. I think IdTA will play a critical advocacy role for this technology across an array of use cases and stakeholders spanning law enforcement, border security, aviation and a number of other areas. It is an exciting time to be involved in this technology.