Biometrics And Smart Cards Go To Boot Camp
Army GIs use smart cards with biometric data to pay for personal expenses.
Business Solutions, September 1998
Treasury Department And Mellon Bank Team Up To Help New Recruits
Yes, it's true - and the rationale behind the practice makes an interesting story. It all started when the U.S. Congress passed legislation, Electronic Funds Transfer 99 (EFT 99), which requires that the federal government make all payments electronically. The intent of the legislation was to track expenditures better and save money as well as to reduce fraud and abuse. Accordingly, the U.S. Department of the Treasury began to test other forms of disbursement, such as smart cards. (Smart cards are credit cards with a built-in microprocessor. As financial transaction cards, they can store transactions and maintain a bank balance.) These smart cards could be used to enable the Army to give payment advances to new recruits without using money.
The Treasury, through the Department of Defense and its Defense Finance and Accounting System (DFAS), asked Mellon Bank N.A., of Pittsburgh, PA for a solution. Linda Brown, v.p. for smart card products at Mellon Network Services, had earlier set up a smart card program for Treasury at Fort Knox, KY. That program featured, for security reasons, the use of personal identification numbers with smart cards. This time, Treasury wanted a smart card solution installed at Fort Sill, OK. When Mellon Bank representatives asked Treasury officials if they would like to see the application using biometrics, Treasury personnel responded affirmatively. (Biometrics verifies a person's identity based on unique human characteristics, such as fingerprint, face, retina or voice. This information is digitally stored on a template and is compared to the same characteristic presented by a person seeking access.)
The Old Method - And The New
Before Mellon Bank's solution providers installed their biometric smart card program at Fort Sill, the post's paymasters were having problems. New recruits needed money to buy haircuts and items, such as toiletries, which they had forgotten to pack. At Fort Sill, the finance people used a voucher system, which was very labor-intensive. Rosters of recruits were printed, copies of vouchers were issued to the recruits, and the paper vouchers were used to pay civilian merchants, such as barbers. According to Brown, the voucher system was slow and the merchants, especially, disliked it.
Then Mellon Bank personnel moved in with a solution. They began with terminal reading and writing hardware by Verifone. Software for the stored value application and back-office operations was supplied by Product Technologies, Inc. The hardware used to capture fingerprints and mathematically process and compare them was provided by Identicator. The computer servers were made by Compaq and the computers were standard IBM PCs. Gemplus provided the microprocessor smart cards.
The system worked like this. As part of in-processing, the new recruit reports to the finance desk. The finance clerk enters the recruit's social security number (SSN) and scans the recruit's right index finger to obtain a digital representation of the recruit's fingerprint. He then scans the recruit's left index finger. The clerk then adds a dollar value (currently $200) and an expiration date (currently 60 days). The process takes 30 to 35 seconds. Training was simple. The finance clerks who issue the cards are each trained for four hours. Drill sergeants receive one hour and train their recruits on the smart cards for five minutes. The merchants who handle the cards on the post receive about two hours of hands-on training.
How The New System Works
Recruits can use the Mellon Bank Stored Value Card anywhere on the post. This means the post exchanges, barbers, laundries, fast food restaurants, etc. accept the card. They will continue to do so until the $200 is gone or the 60 days have passed. The $200 is really merely an advance against the recruit's first direct deposit. Therefore, any money left on the card after 60 days is automatically credited to the recruit's pay account.
When recruits wish to make a purchase, they place their right index finger in a scanner. When the purchase is made, the card reader displays the value remaining on the card. Additionally, small (one inch by three inch) keyring readers - called value checkers - are issued to the drill sergeants. These devices can read the cards and display the current value as well as the last ten transactions made with the card.
The new system has been well received. The U.S. Army is comparing the system with other systems being tested at other training bases.
The Mellon Bank Stored Value Card system, however, won the Larry Linden Memorial Award for Innovative Security Technological Application For 1998 from CardTech/SecurTech at its Trade Show.