Biometric Technology - An Overview

November 5, 2019

Biometric technology has long promised to transform the way that people interact with electronics, and for the most part, it has.

What is it?

The term “biometrics” is technically used to refer to body measurements and calculations from these measurements. It refers to metrics related to various human characteristics. In technology, certain human measurements or patterns are called “biometric identifiers” and typically include fingerprints, facial patterns, iris scanning, and more. Biometric technology uses those same, or some physiological identifiers in the technology at hand.

Where did it come from?

The history of biometric technology is as interesting as it is convoluted and heavily debated. Sadly not entirely the making of some great science fiction films! But dates back far earlier than the 80s. 

“ An early cataloguing of “biometric identifiers”, in the form of fingerprints, dates back to 1891 when Juan Vucetich started a collection of fingerprints of criminals in Argentina. Josh Ellenbogen and Nitzan Lebovic argued that Biometrics originated in the identification systems of criminal activity developed by Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) and by Francis Galton's theory of fingerprints and physiognomy. According to Lebovic, Galton's work "led to the application of mathematical models to fingerprints, phrenology, and facial characteristics,'' as part of "absolute identification". “ - according to Wikipedia.

Another interesting story was that of the William Wests. Two different individuals, both bearing the same name, and quite astonishingly quite similar in resemblance too!

The story goes:

In 1903, upon arrival at the Leavenworth Penitentiary in northeast Kansas for a minor crime, Will West was informed that he was already in prison serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. Well, sort of, for he was checked by the Bertillon identification system in the prison and his face matched completely with that of another William West who was in their criminal database and behind bars in that same prison.

Same name and strangely enough almost identical facial features, but to much surprise to prison officials, two completely different individuals. This situation emphasised the need for fingerprinting identification. Full article available here > Will and William West conundrum: How two unrelated but identical inmates showed need for fingerprinting.

What do we use it for?

Many businesses and large corporations use biometric technology for access control to premises, and certain rooms as well as security to control unauthorised visitors, or receive (log) visitors. 

Casinos have been using it for years through internal surveillance systems to identify those suspected of card counting or some other gambling fraud. 

Governments and law enforcement can (and do) use it to track down suspects, stop illegal immigrants, or even apprehend suspects at an airport. Our own government has implemented it for citizen identity verification.

The more common uses are now in devices we carry with us every single day. Our mobile phones. Most modern phones have fingerprint scanners or use facial recognition to unlock the phone. It can also be used in computers and home security systems.

The Biometric Future

Progress in the financial sector would be an obvious one - providing biometric identifiers for mobile banking apps for example, drawing money from an ATM, verifying payments at restaurants or even opening a bank account.

Smart cars using biometric technology to recognise and authorise the owner. 

Biometrics based on brain (electroencephalogram) and heart (electrocardiogram) signals have emerged the healthcare sector. Phonocardiograms could potentially change the way that heart ailments are diagnosed. Some cardiac defects are best detected by the sounds that your heart makes.

Biometric technology is not yet free from fraud, but luckily engineers in this sophisticated space are constantly innovating. Biometric technology still offers very compelling solutions for security and access control. 

Ideco are specialists in biometric technology. If you are considering upgrading your systems, speak to one of our biometric technology specialists.