July 30, 2015


Biometrics may be a fairly new term to some individuals so it is entirely appropriate at this time to define the technology.  This will lay the groundwork for the discussion to follow.  According to the International Biometric Society:

“Biometrics is used to refer to the emerging field of technology devoted to identification of individuals using biological traits, such as those based on retinal or iris scanning, fingerprints, or face recognition.”

The terms “Biometrics” and “Biometry” have been used since early in the 20th century to refer to the field of development of statistical and mathematical methods applicable to data analysis problems in the biological sciences.

From the Free Dictionary we see the following definition:

  • The statistical study of biological phenomena.
  • The measurement of physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, DNA, or retinal patterns for use in verifying the identity of individuals.
  • Biometrics refers to metrics related to human characteristics. Biometrics authentication (or realistic authentication) is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control. It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance.

Biometric identifiers are the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals. Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological versus behavioral characteristics. Physiological characteristics are related to the shape of the body.  Examples include, but are not limited to fingerprint, palm veins and odor/scent.  Behavioral characteristics are related to the pattern of behavior of a person, including but not limited to typing rhythm, gait, and voice.  Some researchers have coined the term behaviometrics to describe the latter class of biometrics.

More traditional means of access control include token-based identification systems, such as a driver’s license or passport, and knowledge-based identification systems, such as a password or personal identification number.  Since biometric identifiers are unique to individuals, they are more reliable in verifying identity than token and knowledge-based methods; however, the collection of biometric identifiers raises privacy concerns about the ultimate use of this information.

The oldest biometric identifier is facial recognition. The dimensions, proportions and physical attributes of a person’s face are unique and occur very early in infants.   A child will (obviously) recognize a parent, a brother or sister.  It is only since the advent of computers and accompanying software that the ability to quantify facial features has become possible.

The FBI has long been a leader in biometrics and has used various forms of biometric identification since the very earliest day.  This Federal institution assumes responsibility for managing the national fingerprint collection in 1924.  As you know, fingerprints vary from person to person (even identical twins have different prints) and don’t change over time. As a result, they are an effective way of identifying fugitives and helping to prove both guilt and innocence.

We will discuss fingerprints, as well as other modes of identification, later on in this course.


In the last several years, improvements in the technology have greatly increased application.  It is expected that in the near future, we will use biometry many times in our daily activities such as getting in the car, opening the door of our house, accessing our bank account, shopping by internet, accessing our PDA, mobile phone, laptops, etc. Depending on where biometric systems are deployed, the applications can be categorized in the following five main groups:  1.) Forensic, 2.) Government, 3.) Commercial, 4.) Health-care, and 5.) Traveling and immigration. However, some applications are common to these groups such as physical access, PC/network access, time and attendance, etc.


The use of biometric technology in law enforcement and forensic analysis applied to law enforcement, has been known and used for quite some time.  That technology is used mainly for identification of criminals. In particular, the AFIS (automatic fingerprint identification system) has been used for this purpose.  Recently, facial-scan technology or mug shots are being used for the identification of suspects. Another possible application is the verification of individuals considered for arrest as suspects in home and auto break-ins.  The typical applications are:

  • Identification of criminals- Collecting evidence, such as fingerprints, at the scene of a crime makes it possible to compare information relative to an existing database.  You often hear in the movies of investigating officers “dusting for fingerprints”. This has been and is common practice.
  • Surveillance –-Using cameras, one can monitor very busy areas such as stadiums, airports, meeting rooms, etc. to determine the presence of criminal suspects or when suspected criminal activity could be a possibility.   Based on the face recognition biometric, using images (e.g., mug shots), database files of wanted persons or criminals may be integrated to verify their presence. Since the events of September 11, 2001, the interest in biometric surveillance has increased dramatically, especially for air travel. There are many cameras monitoring crowds at airports for detecting wanted terrorists.
  • Corrections –This refers to the treatment of offenders (criminals) through a system of penal incarceration, rehabilitation, probation, and parole, or the administrative system by which these are effectuated. In this cases a biometric system can avoid the possibility of accidentally releasing the wrong prisoner, or to ensure that people leaving the facilities are really visitors and not inmates.
  • Probation and home arrest – Biometrics can also be used for post-release programs (conditional release) to ensure the fulfillment of the probation, parole and home detention terms.


There are many application of biometric technology used and operating in the government sector. An AFIS or Automatic Fingerprint Identification System is the primary means for locating duplicate entities enrolled in benefits systems, electronic voting for local or national elections, issuance of driver’s license emission, etc. The typical application is:

  • National Identification Cards – The idea is to include digital biometric information in the national identification card. This is the most ambitious biometric program, since the identification must be performed in a large-scale database, containing hundreds of millions of samples, corresponding to the whole population of one country. These cards can be used for multiple purposes such as controlling the collection of benefits, avoiding duplicates of voter registration and drivers license usage.    These applications are primarily based on finger-scan and AFIS technology; however it is possible that facial-scan and iris-scan technology could be used in the future.
  • Voter ID and Elections – While the biometric national identification (ID) card is still an ongoing project in the United States, many countries already use this mode of biometry to control  voting and voter registration.  These ID cards are used for national and/or regional elections. During the registration of voters, biometric data is captured and embedded in the card with matching data in a stored database for the later use. The purpose is to prevent duplicate registration and voting.
  • Driver’s licenses – In many countries a valid driver license is used as an identification document; therefore it is important to prevent duplication and use under a different name. Biometrics can eliminate this problem.  However, it is important that the data is shared between states, because in the United States, the license is controlled at the state level as opposed to the federal level.
  • Benefits Distribution (social service) – The use of biometry in benefits distribution prevents fraud and abuse within government benefits programs.  This can ensure that legitimate recipients have quick and convenient access to benefits such as unemployment, health care and social security.
  • Employee authentication – The government use of biometric data for PC, network, and data access is critical for securing buildings and thereby protection of confidential information.
  • Military programs – The military has long been interested in biometric technology and many of the advancements have come from R&D efforts financed by the government.  With this being the case, the technology has enjoyed extensive support from the national security community.


Banking and financial services represent enormous growth areas for biometric technology.   Many developments are currently in place with pilot projects initiated frequently. Several applications within the banking sector are:

  • Account access –Access to a specific personal or commercial account using Biometrics allows the financial institution to keep definitive records of account access by employees and customers. Using biometry, customers can access accounts and employees can log from their workstations or in person.
  • ATMs –Biometrics allowing ATM access, provides for more secure banking transactions. This access would probably be by virtue of fingerprint, retina or iris scans.
  • Expanded Service Kiosks –A more receptive market for biometrics may be special purpose kiosks, using biometric verification to allow a greater variety of financial transaction than are currently available through standard ATMs.
  • Online banking –Internet-based account access is already widely used in many places.  The inclusion of biometric technology will bring about much greater security for these transactions from home.  Currently, there are many pilot programs using biometrics in home banking.
  • Telephone transaction – Voice-scan biometric can be used to secure telephone-based banking transactions. In this application, when the consumer calls to execute a transaction, a biometric system will authenticate the customer’s identity based on his or her voice. There will be no need for any additional device.
  • PC/Network access –The use of biometric login to local PCs or remotely through networks increases the security of the overall system.  This definitely insures greater protection  of valuable information.
  • Physical access –Biometric technology is widely used for controlling the access to buildings or restricted areas.  This is very common right now.
  • E-commerce – Biometric e-commerce is the use of any biometric mode to verify the identity of individuals wishing to gain remote access for transaction involving goods or services.
  • Time and attendance monitoring –Biometrics can be used for controlling the presence of individuals in a given area. For example, for controlling time sheets of employees or the presence of students in a classroom.  Hand and palm readers are very prevalent in manufacturing locations for use in clocking in and clocking out.

Health Care:

Applications for this sector include identification or verification of individuals interacting with a health-care entity or acting in the capacity of health-care employees or other professionals. The main purpose being prevention of fraud, protecting patient information, and the control of pharmaceutical products. Typical application are:

  • PC/Network Access –To control the activity of employees needing to gain access to hospital networks.  Used primarily to protect patient information from unauthorized personnel.
  • Access of personal information – Patient information could possibly be stored on smart cards or secure networks allowing access for patients relative to their personal information.
  • Patient identification -In cases of emergency and when a patient does not have identification documentation, biometric identification may be a good alternative.   The DoD is experimenting with DNA samples carried by the uniformed soldier allowing doctors in emergency situations to access the patient’s records.

Travel and Immigration

The application in this sector includes the use of biometrics technology to identify or verify the identity of individuals interacting with systems during the course of travel.  This, of course, includes immigration entity or acting in the capacity of an immigration employee. Typical applications are:

  • Air travel –Many airports are already using a biometric system in to reduce inspection processing times for authorized travelers.
  • Border crossing –The use of biometrics to control the travelers crossing the national or state border is increasing, especially in regions with high volume of travelers or illegal immigrants.
  • Employee access –Several airports use biometrics to control the physical access of employees to secure areas.
  • Passports –Some countries already issues passports with biometric information on a barcode or smart chips. The use of biometrics prevents use of multiple passports for the same person and facilitates the identification at the airports and border controls.

As you can see, biometric technology may be one possibility for limiting or eliminating fraud and identity theft.  The technology is still developing and will provide many of the answers needed in years to come.

As always, I welcome your comments.


2 Responses to “BIOMETRICS”

  1. Doc' & CJ Says:

    Informative article Bob, I appreciate the info.

    Care to elaborate on the broader implications of biometrics?

    The Romans are generally credited with inventing the first claw hammer. the modern equivalent (the adze-eye hammer) was invented in 1840 by an American blacksmith named David Maydole. Since 1840 many millions of homes and businesses have been built with claw hammers, the efficiency of the original design remains virtually unchanged and is still in large-scale use today. The hammer is a revolutionary and highly productive tool that has demonstrably advanced the construction industry worldwide and thereby has greatly improved the overall well being of mankind as a whole. This is a statement of fact.

    Claw hammers have also been used worldwide, to commit acts of murder. Although designed and intended for an entirely different purpose, the potential of the claw hammer has been exploited by mankind since it was first used. This too, is a statement of fact.

    My questions then are;

    If a simple tool consisting of only two inanimate parts being joined together can produce such profound, broad ranging, and long lasting effects on mankind (albeit primarily beneficial);

    What then are the true effects of a “tool” that employs technology far beyond that of a simple two part assemblage like a hammer? How profoundly is mankind effected and for how long? Beyond the stated, what is the potential of such advanced technology? More specifically, what is the potential for abuse?

    Most importantly, who exactly is the keeper of, the accumulator of such vast quantities of highly detailed and organized information? How and why should any such organization be trusted with this level of private information? Where and how is biometric data stored? Is any and all of the information gathered made public or open sourced? Who if anyone monitors the organizations tasked with gathering biometric information? Are these elected or appointed positions? Does the gathering of biometric data require Senate or Congressional approval and/or oversight?

    Constitutional? Of course it is. As long as you consent to it, knowingly. Or by default.

    My questions are really a moot point, the concerns and justifications of biometric systems are irrelevant as well. “Biometrics” as you referred to it in your article is already in use on a global scale whether we “wanted” it or not. The real concern is that biometrics is only a very small part of a much larger system which is presented as a means of “improving” mankind as a whole. “Streamlining” if you will, or is it better described as symmetry?

    A simple hammer can be an implement of growth and prosperity, or it can be a tool of demolition and destruction. A hammer is always used in concert with a saw and nails, but a hammer, nor a saw nor any nail…can ever think. Nor can the buildings they construct.

    I’m not so sure the same can be said of biometrics and the systems they support. And as the well established history of the lowly claw hammer represents, mankind has a long record of misusing the “tools” we create of our own making.

    The first hammer used by a man was a stone held in one hand, that was also the same day man first smashed the fingers of his other hand.

    Let us not forget the lessons learned by the proper use of our tools, nor the consequence of all the fingers we have smashed along the way.

    The high tech “hammers” we use today, can literally smash the universe.


    • cielotech Says:

      Hello Doc and CJ. Actually, you bring up a very good point and one that the “biometrics community” is really struggling with–PRIVACY. This is a huge issue in the industry. My wife and I have had our bank accounts “hacked” three times now. After each “event”, we had to make the repairs. This takes time. I have no confidence in the “FED” or banks or commercial concerns to keep our data private, BUT if that could be accomplished, the identify theft and fraud could be greatly reduced–greatly reduced. Many thanks for the very kind comments. Take care .


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: