BALTIMORE - Three years ago in Iraq, U.S. forces taking suspected insurgents into custody kept track of their identities by marking their foreheads with Sharpie pens.
Today, the military collects all 10 fingerprints, two iris scans, a voice sample, a digital photograph of the face and DNA.
In Iraq, "I don't have to ask permission to take someone's biometrics," said Lt. Col. J.M. Manson, who serves at the Marine Corps headquarters' plans policies and operations division.
That won't always be the case, he admitted at the annual Biometrics Consortium.
Taking a person's DNA, for example, would be considered taboo in the United States and many other countries.
To help fight the Iraqi insurgency, the Defense Department has pushed about a half dozen biometric collection technologies into the field.
As is the case with many cutting edge technologies sped into current operations, policies on how best to use them are not fully developed. But the Pentagon is taking small steps to integrate the rapidly advancing technology into its long-term plans.
A 168-page Defense Science Board task force report on biometrics released in March attempted to summarize the services' needs and capabilities for collecting unique data on a person's identity. The report contained a whopping 46 recommendations - more than twice the number of proposals from similar board reports, said William Gravell, co-chairman of the committee that authored the report.
Among the conclusions was that the importance of biometrics in the Defense Department is growing, but "operational responsiveness, organization, coordination, programmatics and research and development all showed serious deficiencies."
"Technology is improving" the report continued. "But the Defense Department was not initially set up to drive the process or apply results optimally."
Gravell said the report he helped write was lacking the moment it left the printing press.
It should instead have addressed the field of "identity management," which is roughly defined as the information technology backbone that ties the data together.
In other words, collecting fingerprints, mug shots and iris scans is fine, but the data must be collected efficiently, stored and then transmitted to the right people who can use it to make decisions.
An ID card, or what he called a token, is not enough.
"The history of identity management in the first half decade of the 21st Century is just a conga line of technical projects that work, but fail because they're not accepted," he said.
"Basic identity enrollment never pays off. Period," he added.
The value of biometrics is in the applications, he said.
An oft mentioned success story repeated at the conference was of the latent fingerprint found on an improvised explosive device fragment in Iraq. Investigators had the fingerprint, but no identity to match it with. They received a break in the …