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NIST promises iris biometric ID standard soon

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology is still readying a standard for the use of iris images in federal identity cards and intends to release a special publication covering the use of the iris biometric this July, said Charles Romine, director of the NIST Information Technology Laboratory.

Romine spoke June 19 during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on government operations. By most standards, the hearing, chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), was unusual.

During the question period, Mica began by asking Romine when the standard would be ready, citing testimony from Romine's predecessor who testified in 2011 that the standard could be ready months later. The following is a transcript of that exchange.

Romine: I can guarantee she had no intent to deceive –

Mica: But that was April –

Romine:  – the subcommittee.

Mica: – April 4, 2011.

Romine: Her –

Mica: Mr. [Ranking Member Gerald] Connolly [D-Va.], is today 2013?

Romine: In –

Mica: Is this June? What's the date?

Unidentified staffer: June 19.

Mica: June 19. What's happened?

Romine: Thank you for asking.

Mica: Your own worst nightmare has come true, I'm ba-ack. [Pause] And chairing a committee with broad jurisdiction.

Romine: Uh, what I can tell is that –

Mica: How long? What are you going to tell us? Where is the iris standard?

Romine: Well, if I can, if I can expand a little at first on the testimony of Ms. Furlani, it was predicated, as she stated at the time, on the assumption that no major technical hurdles would surface during the –

Mica: My god! Technical hurdles?!

Romine: So –

Mica: We asked for this after 2001, and you, they, were working on it. This was to 2011. We were promised it was just, I mean, at least three times in three difference appearances it was just around the corner. This is 2013. When [thumps dais], when [thumps dais], when [final thump]! Can we get – [turns to face Connolly] I don't want to harass the witness. [Turns back to face forward] Sir, please tell me when we can get this, this standard.

Romine: There –

Mica: These people [indicates other federal witnesses] can't do a damn thing unless you set the standard. That's what they're going to testify to when I, when I go after them in a minute.

Romine: There were…[Audible exhale, sounds like choked laugher] There were [clears throat] –

Mica: When?

Romine: During the public comment there were three major–

Mica: Tell me the when!

Romine: – technical issues.

Mica: Is it an estimate? A month? A week? Two more years? When. Can. You. Set. A. Standard?

Romine: We expect to be able to release the special publication, uh, [pause] immediately after the workshop that we're holding in early July. So, on July 9, we will hold a workshop on camera certification, iris camera certification. Uh, our expectation is that we will be able to release the second edition, or the second version of special publication 800-76 at that time, or immediately thereafter.

Mica: So sometime, let's say by Sept. 1, these agencies should have some standard to go by?

Romine: At the risk of repeating the mistake of a predecessor, in your view, I would say I'm willing to agree that that is an appropriate release time. The idea that we have, uh –

Mica: Mr. Connolly, if I die are you going to take over? Do you pledge to follow up on this?

Connolly: We don't want you to die, Mr. Chairman, but we certainly want to take over, and I do make that pledge.

Mica: Okay.

[General laughter]

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimony available)
- watch the hearing on Ustream

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