Interior Ministry eyeballs biometric passports

Biometric passports include information about the bearer encrypted in a chip.

September 15, 2007 20:35
rafah border control passports

rafah control 298 88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])


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Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit recently declared that as Israel's passports and identity cards are easily counterfeited, he will push to replace all of them to increase security and meet the increasingly stringent requirements of other countries admitting Israeli visitors. The Israeli branch of the 3M Company was surely pleased to hear the news. The mother company is one of the world's leaders in the production of electronic and biometric documents. Biometric refers to the scanning of parts of the body, from fingerprints to the internal structure of the eye. No two people have the same biometric characteristics - a fact that makes this the perfect system for identification in the wake of terror threats. So far, 40 countries - including Germany, France and England - have changed their passport system to a biometric one that includes information about the bearer encrypted into a chip. The US is in the process of the changeover. According to Amit Hayut, director of the security and government sector for 3M-Israel, the electronic passport is in effect a "book" whose first page contains a chip with all the relevant data about its holder. There is a digital photo, plus the possibility of crossmatching the holder with biometric information from his eye or fingerprint. In the future, voice identification and even DNA records might be included. When the holder reaches airport security, the passport and individual will be scanned to see if the data match, and whether the person is permitted to pass. Such a system is expected to be operating in all European airports and the US by 2009, so all Israeli citizens will need electronic documentation if they want to travel there. Amit says e-passports will shorten queues and even eliminate visa applications. The cost of producing a biometric passport is $10 to $20, compared to the $3 of today. Of course, countries will also have to invest in electronic "readers." Amit maintains that his firm offers more comprehensive solutions, and is ready to start producing e-passports in less than a year. TV NOT TEACHER TO UNDER-TWOS Parents increasingly use their TV sets as babysitters, and many believe this serves very young children not only as entertainment but also as teachers. But new research at Wake Forest University in North Carolina has found that toddlers learn their first words better from people than from Teletubbies. Children under 22 months may be entertained, but they do not learn words from TV shows. The study was published recently in Media Psychology. Prof. Marina Krcmar, author of the study, explains that with the tremendous success of programs that target very young children, it has become important to understand what toddlers are taking away from these programs. We would like to think that Teletubbies and other such programs can teach initial language skills, but it isn't true. In the study, Krcmar evaluated the ability of children aged 15 to 24 months to learn new words when these are presented as part of a Teletubbies program. She then evaluated their ability to learn the same words from an adult in the same room with them. Children younger than 22 months didn't accurately identify an object when taught the new word by the TV program, but were readily able to connect the word with the object when dealing with an adult standing in front of them, she said. "During the early stages of language acquisition, and for children who still have fewer than 50-word vocabularies, toddlers learn more from an adult speaker than from a program such as Teletubbies," Krcmar said. This study has important implications for language acquisition. It indicates exposure to language via TV is insufficient for very young children. To learn new words, such children must be actively engaged in the process with responsive teachers. "We have known for years that children aged three and older can learn from programs like Sesame Street," Krcmar said. But it seems TV programming for children under two doesn't help build vocabulary. The results confirm the recommendation of the Academy of Pediatrics to spare children under two form television. She also found that the children were just as attentive to an adult speaker on a small screen as they were to the Teletubbies characters - and identified the target words more successfully in response to a video of an adult speaker than to the Teletubbies. UNDERSTANDING STARDUST An Israeli and other astronomers have now - for the first time - made a unique set of observations enabling them to find traces of the material that surrounded a white dwarf before it exploded. A white dwarf, also known as a "degenerate dwarf," is usually composed of carbon and oxygen, and is the type of star that a main-sequence star of low or medium mass will become in the last stage of its evolution. After shedding its outer layers to form a planetary nebula, it will leave behind this core, which forms the remnant white dwarf. When white dwarfs explode, they leave a rapidly expanding cloud of "stardust" known as a Type Ia supernova. These explosive events, which shine billions of times brighter than our sun, are presumed to be extremely similar, and thus have been used extensively as reference beacons to trace distance and the evolution of the universe. The data were collected by two teams of researchers: one at ESO, headed by Dr. Ferdinando Patat, and one at the California Institute of Technology, led by Dr. Avishay Gal-Yam, who recently joined the Weizmann Institute of Science in the condensed matter physics department. The observations were obtained with the ESO Very Large Telescope in Chile and the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii, enabling them to find traces of the material that had surrounded a white dwarf before it exploded. Their data is unique, in that no Type Ia supernova has ever been observed at this level of detail over severa months following the explosion. These observations support a widely accepted model proposing that a white dwarf interacts with a companion star - a red giant. Due to the white dwarf's strong gravitational pull, this companion continuously loses mass by "force feeding" its gases to the white dwarf. When the mass of the white dwarf grows past a critical value, it explodes. Through their observations, which took place over four months and combined with archival data, the astronomers detected the presence of a number of expanding shells surrounding a Type Ia supernova. The makeup of these shells suggests they are the remnants of the red giant that fed the white dwarf. These results were published in Science.

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