Al Maas, president of Nexus USA â¿¿ a subsidiary of Spanish-based Hanscan Indentity Management, which patented the technology â¿¿ acknowledged South Dakota might seem an unlikely locale to test it, but to him, it was a perfect fit.
"I said, if it flies here in the conservative Midwest, it's going to go anywhere," Maas said.
Maas grew up near Madison, S.D., and wanted his home state to be the technology's guinea pig. He convinced Hanscan owner Klaas Zwart that the 2,400-student Mines campus should be used as the starter location.
The students all major in mechanical engineering or hard sciences, which means they're naturally technologically inclined, said Joseph Wright, the school's associate vice president for research-economic development.
"South Dakota is a place where people take risks. We're very entrepreneurial," Wright said.
After Maas and Zwart introduced the idea to students this winter, about 50 stepped forward to take part in the pilot.
"I really wanted to be part of what's new and see if I could help improve what they already have," said Phillip Clemen, 19, a mechanical engineering student.
Robert Siciliano, a security expert with McAfee, Inc., minimized potential privacy concerns.
"We are hell bent on privacy issues here in the U.S. We get all up in arms when someone talks about scanning us or recording our information, but then we'll throw up everything about us on Facebook and give up all of our personal information for 10 percent off at a shoe store for instant credit," he said.
Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, said fingerprint technology on its own raises security issues, but he called "liveness detection" a step in the right direction.
"Any security measure can be defeated; it's a question of making it harder," he said.
The key to keeping biometric identification from becoming Big Brother-like is to make it voluntary and ensure that the information scanned is used exactly as promised, Stanley said.