What are Biometric Systems?
Anil Jain of Michigan State University says that “[…] biometrics, refer to the automatic identification of a person based on his/her anatomical (e.g., fingerprint, iris) or behavioral (e.g., signature) characteristics or traits. […]”. Biometric systems are rapidly growing in popularity due to their ease of use. They do not require the use of passwords, keys, RFID chip implanted badges, or any other physical item which could be lost or imitated. Instead, they use features that are unique to each individual user (Biometric keys), which allows for quick, convenient identification.
Where did Biometrics come from?
In the 14th century, the Chinese used the first known form of biometrics. They took prints from the hands and feet of newborns so that they could tell them apart from each other. In 1883, Alphonse Bertillon created the anthropometrical study known as Bertillonage. This was the first truly modern attempt to systematically identify people using biometric measures. This system used 11 different physical measurements do identify individuals, with the assumption that no two people had the exact same set of measurements. While this system ultimately proved to be cumbersome and flawed, the basic concept remained alive and well within the scientific and law enforcement communities. This led to the development of several new biometric systems, many of which are still in use today.
Why use Biometrics?
There are several big advantages to using Biometric systems as opposed to traditional identification systems. The first advantage is that biometric keys are unique to the individual whereas I.D. cards are not necessarily unique. No two people have the same fingerprints, retinal patterns or voice patterns; but there can be multiple copies of your debit card. Another big advantage of biometric identification is that you can never forget or lose your biometric key. Cards can be stolen, keys can be lost, passwords can be forgotten, but your retinal patterns cannot. A third advantage of biometric systems is that they can be universally applied. Many of us carry multiple keys and cards, with biometric systems, your biometric key will substitute for all of them, removing the need to carry so many keys and cards.
What kinds of Biometrics are in use today?
The most popular biometric system in use today is fingerprinting. Fingerprinting first became a popular scientific method in 1892, when Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Sir Charles Darwin, published a series of books and articles outlining the subject. Galton explained that fingerprinting is based on the idea that no two fingerprints are identical, or that the odds of such an event are so unlikely as to be scientifically insignificant. Today, fingerprints are a vital part of the identification process and are used to identify government workers, soldiers, school teachers, convicted criminals, and many others.
How are Biometrics categorized?
Biometric systems can be split into two major groups based on their purpose: identification and verification. Verification systems are the most common. They rely on a database of approved biometric signatures that is prepared in advance. The system compares the biometric signature being presented with the database to “Verify” the person’s identity. This system does not necessarily identify someone; it simply verifies that the person in question is in the approved database. Identification systems, on the other hand, seek to determine the exact identity of the person in question. Instead of checking a local database, it may use an international database such as IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System) to determine their identity. These systems are more complex and more expensive, and are therefore, less common.
Why are some people opposed to Biometric systems?
Some people are opposed to biometric systems because they prevent most forms of anonymity. If widely implemented, biometric systems would likely be networked together into a system that, in the wrong hands, could be used to track an individual’s every move. Imagine how many times each day you use a key, card or password. Every time you use one of those items in a biometric system, it creates a permanent electronic record of your activity which could theoretically be accessed by anyone and used to track you.
Are Biometric systems worth implementing?
Biometric systems, like most technological advances, offer both positives and negatives. The positives include a reduction in identity theft, and crime in general. The negatives include a loss of privacy and a potential for abuse by regulatory agencies. In general though, biometric systems offer more positives than negatives. They offer efficiencies that are extremely cost-effective and useful to the business community in general.