Biometric security has been a source of contention on many levels. On the surface, it sounds like the perfect solution to the problem of identity theft. After all, there are a number of physiological traits that are more or less unique to individual human beings. And those prone to forgetting passwords or leaving their smart cards at home aren’t apt to leave the house without their fingerprints or forget their retinal patterns.
However (there’s always a “however”), nothing is perfect and biometrics is no exception. Privacy advocates object to the somewhat invasion nature of some biometric scanning technology and, even more troubling, some security experts warn that biometric identification is not nearly as fool-proof as it’s hyped to be (especially by the makers of biometric security devices).
It has been demonstrated (most popularly by Japanese engineering professor Matsumoto a couple of years ago at the University of Yokohama) that most fingerprint scanners can be fooled by fake fingers made of gelatin. Facial recognition software has a high rate of false negatives and false positives. Iris scanners’ results can be skewed by tears or even long eyelashes.
Nonetheless, the push for biometric identification moves forward. In many states in the U.S., fingerprints are required for driver’s licensing, and the U.K. is developing new standards for passports and other identification documents that will include biometrics. The question no longer seems to be whether biometrics will be used for confirming our identities, but how biometric technology can be made more accurate.
If you’re interested in the field of biometrics and what’s being done to perfect this imperfect technology, you might want to attend the Biometric Consortium’s September conference in Arlington, VA. It’s open to the public, and likely to include some eye-opening information about the future of biometrics. See http://www.biometrics.org/bc2004/index.htm for more info.