Magazine article Newsweek

Replacing Guards and Gates with Biometrics and Big Data; the Security Industry Is Undergoing a Technological Revolution-If Champions of Privacy Let It

Magazine article Newsweek

Replacing Guards and Gates with Biometrics and Big Data; the Security Industry Is Undergoing a Technological Revolution-If Champions of Privacy Let It

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Jackson

On the morning of August 10, 1999, Buford Oneal Furrow Jr. walked into the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, and opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon. The 37-year-old white supremacist wounded a receptionist, a camp counselor and three boys before fatally gunning down a mailman he encountered nearby.

Nearly two decades later, and following numerous mass shootings across America, part of the legacy of that day can be found in the Bais Yaakov School for Girls 20 miles away. Located in affluent West Hollywood, opposite BuzzFeed's glass-fronted offices and a popular Mexican restaurant, Bais Yaakov provides an Orthodox Jewish education to approximately 300 students in grades nine to 12. But the three-floor gray building looks more like a modern fortress than a place of learning.

Bais Yaakov has multiple surveillance cameras visible around its perimeter. A 10-foot-tall green metal fence protects the rear. Inside, an automatic lockdown system disables all doors with the press of a button as an audio-visual alert system relays instant warnings to staff and students in the form of flashing lights and announcements. The most sophisticated technology controls entry to the school: an in-motion biometric recognition system--featured in the latest Mission: Impossible movie--that verifies identities. As staff and students walk up demarcated lanes in front of its external doors, a camera reads both their facial features and body language. If the man, woman or child standing at the entrance is authenticated from a database of about 400 registered people, green lights flick on, buzzers sound and the doors open.

"[Granada Hills] freaked a lot of people out," says Adam Cohen, the volunteer facility manager, whose four daughters have all attended the school (one is still a student there) and whose two nieces were working at the Jewish community center when it was attacked in 1999. "You've got all kinds of crazy people out there. They're going to go to the easier site first. So if you make yourself look vulnerable, you're going to attract attention." In 2009, Cohen helped enlist Bais Yaakov, which already used fingerprint entry software, as the test site for FST Biometrics, an Israeli company developing the new entry system. A $100,000 Department of Homeland Security "site hardening" grant--given to a few hundred U.S. nonprofit grantees every year for the past decade or so--helped pay for it and other measures. Bais Yaakov is now among the most secure schools in the nation, according to safety experts. But it's not alone in ramping up protection at considerable expense. The U.S. security industry, from gadgets and manpower to software and consultancy, has evolved and expanded in recent decades amid rising fears of particular threats, like mass shooters, and the promises of new technology spawned by the digital and internet revolution.

In 2013, the industry totaled $388 billion--with 82 percent of that spent by the private sector--according to a 2014 report. That's bigger than educational services ($308 billion) and arts, entertainment and recreation, including gaming ($280 billion). Electronic security products--ranging from alarms to metal detectors to card readers--are at the forefront of this growth. The Freedonia Group, a market research firm, estimates the market for these products will grow to $16.2 billion by 2019.

FST Biometrics, founded by Aharon Zeevi Farkash, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, has rolled out its entry system in a range of places, including New York City condo towers and health clubs, the Israel Diamond Exchange in Tel Aviv and a Dutch museum using it to provide personalized tours--visitors enroll and then pass through interactive checkpoints that tailor the experience to each person. The company claims its technology makes life easier, by eliminating the need for keys, fobs and access cards, and faster, by processing the information while people are in motion, and is less intrusive and more hygienic than fingerprint technology. …

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