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Minnesota DoJ Uses Biometrics Streamlining Security, Paperwork

When the Minnesota Department of Justice began its eCharging program, the goals were to streamline workflows and to reduce the amount of paperwork between law enforcement agents in the field and the court system. Paperwork backlogs adversely affected productivity, and law enforcement officers in the field received the added benefit of not having to key in unique user ID and password combination for 10-12 different law enforcement databases that they regularly accessed from laptops in squad cars.

"Biometrics seemed a logical direction to pursue," said Justice Department's project manager, Tom Miller. "We had mounting paperwork on criminal charges, and many areas where data entry was being duplicated. Most of the paperwork required signatures and was just being transferred from department to department to get signoffs. It occurred to us that an alternate unique signoff method, like a biometric fingerprint, could electronically suffice for a signature and dramatically optimize our workflows while reducing our pain points."

Minnesota Justice Department's move to biometrics was nothing new. The FBI and Homeland Security have widely used biometrics for years. Educational institutions, pharmaceutical companies, financial services organizations and healthcare also use biometrics for purposes of records identification and personal security. "From an IT standpoint, biometrics is an established technology and can be straightforward to implement because it integrates with virtually every computing hardware and software platform out there," said Michael DePasquale, CEO of BIO-Key, Minnesota Justice's biometrics provider. "This makes it easy to replace older security methodologies such as user IDs and passwords that use two-factor authentication."

Minnesota Justice's IT Lead, Kyle Jacobson, agrees. "We really didn't encounter many integration issues with biometrics," said Jacobson. "There were a few challenges on the client-side where we found we needed to install ActiveX controls, but that was all." The other potential area of technical impact--storage--was also largely unaffected, because the biometrics are reduced from an image by algorithms into a file of mathematical expressions that capture the "equation" of the fingerprint. These arithmetic files are what is actually matched against when officers scan their fingerprints into the readers on their laptops. The files are further compressed before they are stored.

"With the technology issues being manageable, I'd have to say that if we encountered anything, it was user acceptance issues of the new technology when we began to roll it out," said Tom Miller. "There were initial concerns among our law enforcement officers that the new process using biometrics was going to be too complex. Even though they had to write down and remember ten or twelve different user IDs and passwords for the databases that they accessed daily in the field, officers were used to getting access this way--and not comfortable about having to change the way they worked.

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