New law-enforcement and security tools took center stage in November at Comdex, the computer industry's largest trade show, held annually in Las Vegas. Attendance was off sharply at this year's gathering, from 210,000 last year to about 150,000. But technology companies aggressively stepped up at the show to respond to the need for more robust and sophisticated law-enforcement tools following the attacks on the United States.
And with the technology industry weathering a 12-month slump, many see bright prospects as government agencies and private companies open their wallets to bolster security capabilities, from airport security-screening devices to computer data-mining software products.
Among the more popular sectors this year: biometrics, or the science of identifying individuals through such physical characteristics as fingerprints, voice recognition, face recognition or retinal scans. Biometric devices are used for security at buildings and even for access to computers, through a specially configured mouse that only authorizes use by specific persons. The sheer number of biometric companies exhibiting at Comdex warranted their own pavilion this year.
The most advanced fingerprint sensors, from companies such as Biometric Associates, Inc., Fingerprint Cards, SAFLINK Corporation and Sagem Morpho, are used in applications including law enforcement, document security, health systems and physical access to buildings. These companies boast that they can match even partial prints to those in a database to restrict access to facilities or even personal computers, and verify users' identity.
Although the technology for face recognition is still being fine-tuned, technology companies have made great strides, and some airports and government agencies are using the technology already. Viisage, a Littleton-based face-recognition company, has implemented security systems at airports and sports facilities around the country, and seen its stock soar since Sept. 11. A German company, Cognitec, uses a Webcam for both video communications and secure computer access. Symtron Technology, based on work done at Yale University's Computer Vision Lab, is fine-tuning the “Face On” product to verify a user's identification and restrict access to certain files.
In Massachusetts, law-enforcement agencies continually upgrade their computer systems as budgets allow, but new products are making the process easier and cheaper. In Bristol County, the district attorney's office is using LaserFiche software to archive all of its Superior Court records. LaserFiche, a document-imaging software manufacturer, allows users to scan all paper and photographs into electronic files and store the files for later use.
In the Bristol County sheriff's office, all inmate records are being moved onto LaserFiche storage systems.
"They have a huge document room, with thousands of files," said Ron LaLiberte, a LaserFiche representative. "All their inmate records will be moved out and (made) available on the desktop. For 95 percent of the office's work, they don't need paper files."
In addition to the law-enforcement and security tools on display at Comdex, some products useful for law office management were introduced. Stromberg L.L.C. announced the Time Manager Enterprise/Corporate Manager 1.3, a client server system for tracking time and billing resources.
Also at Comdex this year: Kryptonite's new laptop locking systems. Anyone burned by the loss of a laptop might look into the new line of cable locks, sensor alarms and the heavy-duty KryptoVault cage-like device that would dissuade the most aggressive would-be thief.