Biometric firms scan for terrorism

Canadian biometric and security companies have been the unintended beneficiaries of the terrorist attacks in September and business might only get better.

The Government of Canada Monday introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act, which would make it easier for police and national security agencies to use electronic surveillance and amend the Criminal Code to eliminate online hate propaganda. The proposed legislation comes approximately one month following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11.

On Friday, Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay announced the RCMP would receive another $54 million a year to help fight terrorism. This includes fingerprint identification technology and screening technology for airports.

David Jones, president of privacy lobby group Electronic Frontier Canada, says everyone is looking to get in on what is becoming a hot industry.

“There are little start up high-tech companies lining up down the road, around the block drooling at all of these government announcements,” he says. “(They’re) elbowing each other out of the way to get in front of the camera for the evening news, ‘I have a thumbprint scanner,’ ‘I have an iris scanner,’ ‘I have a retina scanner,’ ‘I have a smartcard.’ They’re these technical solutions hunting for a problem.”

Vancouver-based Imagis Technologies Inc., which makes facial recognition software, says it has seen a surge in business.

“Our stock’s tripled in the first two weeks after Sept. 11. It’s been unbelievable. The phones are ringing off the hook,” says its president and CEO Iain Drummond. “Ninety-five per cent of the calls have to do with airport security.”

Anthony LaMantia, director of strategic planning for SecuGen Canada, says it has also been busy. SecuGen develops and manufactures fingerprint recognition technology and systems.

“Our sales team is fielding about four times as many unsolicited inquiries as before the 11th,” LaMantia says. “There’s definitely a heightened sense of security.”

This hightened sense has permeated every industry. LaMantia says the company has bee fielding calls from retailers, security companies, airports, and the financial and health care industries.

The sudden increase in interest is not a knee-jerk reaction to recent events, LaMantia says. While he admits it is a factor, we’ve undergone a fundamental change that we will continue for the long term.

“Our kids will be just as familiar with biometric devices as they are with Game Boy and DVD,” he says.

While biometric companies stand to profit, Jones says he worries citizens will suffer as a result. He laws passed in haste are often ill-considered and wonders if some of the proposed efforts will have any impact.

“It’s rather unlikely that having thumb scanners in airports would help noticeably to protect Canadians,” he says.

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