University of Pittsburgh
December 17, 2003

Pitt Professor Explores Balance Between New Biometric Technology and Privacy

Two grants fund study in privacy and security issues
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—The heightened security measures adopted and proposed in post-9/11 America have pushed the dynamic tension between privacy rights and public safety to the forefront of national debate.

Lisa Nelson, assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, is working on two major research projects, one focused on the viability and reliability of new biometric technology and the other on information sharing in the airlines' Computer Assisted Passenger Screening System (CAPSS II).

Technologies such as facial recognition software and retinal scans, part of a futuristic field called biometrics, already are being used in airports, retail and financial institutions, and government facilities. Proponents of biometric technology say it enhances security by verifying that individuals are who they say they are; privacy advocates claim some of these measures are too intrusive. Nelson's projects will explore the social and legal ramifications of large-scale implementation of biometric technology.

The National Science Foundation has funded a $3 million, four-year project between Nelson and researchers at West Virginia University, Michigan State University, and Lawrence University. This study will examine the technological maturity of biometric technology.

The second project is funded through a $383,000 grant from the Office of National Risk Assessment and Lockheed Martin. Nelson is part of a working group that consists of researchers from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, West Virginia University, and Columbia University. In this project, Nelson will explore the balance of privacy rights and civil liberties in CAPSS II.