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What is Biometric Identification?

Updated on March 7, 2015

Biometrics: Using Fingerprints and Retinal Scans rather than Passwords

How many user-ids do you have? Passwords? The answer may depend on the number of accounts you hold on various internet sites. We are told not to select the same userid and password, but my goodness - who can remember them all? Hackers get smarter and slicker year after year, being able to trick computer systems into thinking that they are, in fact, the user logging in.

Will the technologies of biometric identification solve these issues in the future? In other words, will our unique fingerprints, retinal scans and the like protect us and allow us the freedom of never having to create and remember unique ways of identifying ourselves online? Biometric identification may also free us from our key chains, allowing us to enter our homes, cars, safes, and other secure locations with the scan of a fingerprint or retina. Its not fictional stuff anymore. The future is here!

But is there a downside to this so-called freedom? Are we actually sacrificing our privacy? Some would say yes, indeed. And its already happening. Countries around the world are requiring biometric identification authentication for passports, identification cards, and in banking systems (Japan, United States, Germany, Australia, Israel, Iraq, Nigeria and Brazil, among others).

What is biometric identification?
What is biometric identification? | Source
Fingerprint scanners for biometric identification
Fingerprint scanners for biometric identification | Source

What is "Biometrics"?

In general, "biometrics" is a statistical analysis of certain human biological or physiological traits, such as fingerprints, signature style, voice, irises, so as to uniquely identify and distinguish people from each other. As stated in Wikipedia, various biometric identfication technologies are compared as follows:

  • Uniqueness is how well the biometric separates individually from another.
  • Permanence measures how well a biometric resists aging.
  • Collectability ease of acquisition for measurement.
  • Performance accuracy, speed, and robustness of technology used.
  • Acceptability degree of approval of a technology.
  • Circumvention ease of use of a substitute.

Obviously, some of the most accurate biometric technologies include DNA analysis. Less accurate would be examining signatures. Some of the new technologies in development may result in identification by gait (the way a person walks), ear canal analysis, and odor!

What Biometric Identification Methods Are Most Secure?

Some concerns have been raised about people stealing fingerprint identities (for example) and compromising a biometric identification system. After all, unlike a lost PIN or password, a fingerprint cannot be re-issued. Proponents of biometric identification technologies note, however, that it is very unlikely to occur.

In general, these are the best biometric identification techniques. With the possible exception of face recognition, the characteristics analyzed do not change over a person's lifetime:

  1. Face recognition: Easy to do, even when the subject does not know his or her face is being scanned. Privacy concerns, of course.
  2. Fingerprints: A gold-standard for over 100 years. Even identical twins do not share the same finger prints. Minor concerns arise if hands are not clean.
  3. Retinal scan: Examines the pattern of blood vessels at the back of the eye, which are unique to each person. Takes at least 15 seconds to complete. No way to run this test without the subject knowing.
  4. Iris scan: Similar to retinal scan; information does not change over the person's lifetime.
  5. Hand geometry: Much like face recognition, this is easy to do and non-intrusive. Subjects place their hand on a slate for analysis of distances between fingers, thickness of palm base, etc. Clean hands not required.

Biometric Identification can help with military operations
Biometric Identification can help with military operations | Source

When will be Relying Exclusively on Biometric Identification?

Biometric identification technologies can work accurately and consistently. For example, fingerprint scanners may malfunction if the person's tips are dirty, resulting in a poor scan.

Eye scans are not intuitively used, and can result in extra time, inaccurate results, and also some discomfort from the light shined into the eye. Facial recognition is still in development; some systems can be fooled by hats or facial hair. Ultimately, scientists expect it to be better in a few years. But that still doesn't address invasion of privacy concerns.

Its safe to say that we're in for a James Bond-esque future with biometric identification. Cool gadgets will literally be at our fingertips. There is much to be learned and fine-tuned, but someday soon you may be able to kiss your thick wallet and key chain goodbye.

© 2008 Stephanie Hicks


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    • Starlinkindia profile image

      Star Link Communication Pvt Ltd 2 years ago from D-88/4, Okhla Phase I, Okhla Industrial Area, New Delhi, Delhi - 110020

      Great Hub ! Biometric Identification is most important in this latest technology world, Stephanie Hicks you write informative hub.

    • profile image

      Biometrics 7 years ago

      Now with multi-modal biometrics more readily available- aka fingerprint plus facial recognition - ID with two or more techniques, will drastically reduce error.

    • parentalsoftware profile image

      parentalsoftware 8 years ago

      great hub, thank you. Im wondering why most people don't actually have parental software or some good internet security on their pc. Children are vunerable everday.

    • profile image

      Biometric 8 years ago

      These are great. We just ordered some UPEK models from

    • profile image

      Heathrow hotels 8 years ago

      What makes me laugh is that Heathrow has biometric scanning and is contributing to the UK bio databases but anyone wanting to avoid being added to the database can just fly into one of the other London airports!! UK border security is pathetic.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 8 years ago from Australia

      Good hub. You don't mention the problems with false positives, and false negatives, or the combination of authentication factors, as biometrics are seldom used as a single factor authentication.

    • privateye2500 profile image

      privateye2500 9 years ago from Canada, USA, London

      Great Hub - Kudos - keep it up.

    • Caregiver-007 profile image

      Margaret Hampton 9 years ago from Florida

      We have Roboform to help with the plethora of passwords. I'd rather have a limited number of good passwords and take my chances there than give up privacy that could some day be misused by a bureaucrat. I would rather be inconvenienced than to relinquish more.

      For example, think of all the errors the IRS makes and which can take years to resolve. So what if they deny you the right to travel or buy necessities because of your retinal scan, because one their faceless computers with a clerical input error erroneously considers you their property? Scary! And it's not so far-fetched. There are real life stories of multi-year, horrendous battles which FINALLY get resolved in favor of the taxpayer, who was honest and correct all along. And whose life, health, career, and relationships were severely damaged for years.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 10 years ago from London UK

      oh yeah!! me2:Dlol

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks! I do like adding the news feeds.

    • LiamBean profile image

      LiamBean 10 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

      Great links. The news items are a great touch.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Blogger Mom! You should read LiamBean's hub too - he wrote one on the same topic! :-)

    • Blogger Mom profile image

      Blogger Mom 10 years ago from Northeast, US

      Steph, great hub! This stuff is so interesting - I'm excited to see how this is implemented in the future!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      You guys! Can you just imagine the black biometric market for body parts? Yech! Actually, I think the decay factor would result in the chop shops (ahem) not staying in business for long...

    • Bonnie Ramsey profile image

      Bonnie Ramsey 10 years ago from United States

      LOL good point comp. But taking that a bit further, if I had to choose between getting my finger chopped off or my eyes gouged out, I would HAVE to go with the fingers LOL.


    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 10 years ago from London UK

      Great hub Steph!

      I am not to sure about fingerprints as this can lead to criminals chopping peoples fingers off. I like the iris scan and i can't wait until Biometrics becomes part of our society in all kinds of security and transactions so i can not just kiss my wallet n keys goodbye but also the 100 + passwords i have!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Sniff away!! LOL! I'm with you Bonnie!

    • Bonnie Ramsey profile image

      Bonnie Ramsey 10 years ago from United States

      Awsome hub! I can't wait to get started thinning mine out! As far as the privacy issue. if you don't have anything to hide, there is no reason to worry about giving your identification, be it by fingerprinting, retina scanning or any other method. Wanna smell me? Go ahead and sniff away! LOL Thanks for this info. It is very impressive!