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Face recognition grew even before 9/11

Though new research finds that interest in the technology has grown since the attacks, its figures also show that spending among federal agencies was already on the rise.

Interest in facial-recognition technology had picked up among federal agencies even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a new report from the investigative arm of Congress.

The State, Energy, Justice and Defense departments spent $10.6 million on facial-recognition technology through June 2001, more than the $8.5 million they spent in all of 2000, according to the General Accounting Office.

And after the attacks, "federal interest in biometrics technology, especially facial-recognition technology as a security measure, appears to have increased," the report said.

For instance, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research had not planned on spending any money on facial-recognition technology before June 2001. But it now plans to work with the Bureau of Consular Affairs to integrate facial-recognition technology into its counterterrorism database in the current fiscal year.

Interest in biometrics has increased outside of Washington as well, particularly in the airline and travel industry. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways recently launched a trial program that could scan up to 2,000 people going through immigration at London's Heathrow Airport.

The GAO prepared the report in response to a request made last July. It studied the use of facial-recognition technology, red-light cameras and photo radar devices among federal agencies.