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Biometrics: the science of measuring physical-biological traits

Biometrics now applies almost exclusively to the measurement of biological traits for security purposes

The term biometrics is now widely known as “the science of measuring physical characteristics to verify a person’s identity; this includes voice recognition, iris and face scans, and fingerprint recognition.” This definition represents a recently created application used in the industrial-tech world.

Since biometrics is a system for measuring unique biological traits for the purpose of identification; it includes utilization of time clocks, the “easy way” to track and to report employees authentication to increase security, and the enhancemeant of access with the convenience of hand readers or finger prints; so, there is no further need for ID badges or time cards and the biometric system also eliminates the “buddy punching” of time cards or employees clocking each other in. When some recognition systems verify the identities of individuals by the size and shape of the hand, they do so without the fingerprints or palm prints being utilized.

Fingerprint recognition has emerged as one of the most popular and convenient biometric technologies because it is more accurate than voice recognition and cheaper than iris scanning, supporters say. Now, more and more everyday gadgets are coming equipped with fingerprint scanners, including some cell phones.

A few airports and government agencies, such as the FBI, have dabbled with biometrics to identify employees. In recent years, a wave of new users, from schools to banks, have adopted the technology. The goal: tighten security, reduce security costs, and meet stricter laws imposed after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Biometrics Plays an Important Role in Physical Access Control

Biometrics identifies a person via a unique human characteristic: the size and shape of a hand, a fingerprint, one’s face or several aspects of the eye. If the goal of an access control system is to control where people, not credentials, can and cannot go, then only a biometric device truly provides this capability to the end user.

As a result, biometrics is used on the front doors of thousands of businesses around the world, at the doors to the tarmacs of major airports, and at the entrances of other facilities where the combination of security and convenience are desired.

More than 900 biometric hand readers control client and employee access to special areas of Italian banks and more than 100 units perform similar functions in Russia. In the united Kingdom, Her Majesty’s prisons rely on biometrics for prisoner and visitor tracking. Universities use hand readers for the on-campus meal program and to safeguard access to dormitories and to protect their computer centers. Hospitals utilize the biometric devices for access control and payroll accuracy.

Since 1991, biometric systems have produced millions of verifications at San Francisco International airport (SFO), with more than 50,000 produced on high volume days. Hand readers span the entire airport, securing more than 180 doors and verifying the identity of more than 18,000 employees. The use of biometrics at San Francisco is airport-wide and fully integrated into the primary access control system.

The Benefits of Biometrics in Access Control

The goal of any access control system is to let authorized people, not just their credentials, into specific places. Only with the use of a biometric device can this goal be achieved. A card-based access system will control the access of authorized pieces of plastic, but not who is in possession of the card. Systems using PINs require an individual only know a specific number to gain entry; but who actually entered the code cannot be determined. On the contrary, biometric devices verify who people are by what they are, whether by hand, eye, fingerprint, or voice recognition. Biometric reductions in errors have lowered the capital costs of ID cards in recent years and the true benefit of eliminating them is realized through reduced administrative efforts. For example, a lost card must be replaced and reissued by someone. Just as there is a price associated with the time spent to complete this seemingly simple task, when added together, the overall administration of a card system is costly.

Contrary to using badges, sign-ins or other ways of tracking employees, a biometric time clock assures that no employee can punch in for another, eliminating time fraud and reducing payroll costs. Because every person’s biometric characteristic (hand, fingerprint, eyes, face, etc.) is unique, a biometric time clock provides a quick, accurate, and reliable way to record in- and out-punches for each employee. That’s why so many companies now employ biometrics.

Potential Problems with Biometric Systems

One of the most crucial factors in the success of a biometric system is user acceptance of the device. It must cause no discomfort or concern for the user. If people are afraid to use the device, they probably will not use it properly, which may result in users not being granted access.

The biometric device must work correctly. When it functions properly, it does two things: it keeps unauthorized people out and lets authorized people in. No device is perfect. In the biometric world, the probability of letting the wrong person in and right person out, is characterized by the “false accept” and the “false reject” error rates.

This contrast and the frustration of dealing with a high number of false rejects will have authorized users and management alike looking for a way to replace the biometric system with something else if these factors are not considered up front.

“Smart” Passports for U.S. Citizens

The U.S. governments planned to issue “smart” passports, featuring embedded microchips that store a compressed image of the owner’s face, to U.S. citizens in October, 2004. Designed to prevent tampering, the digital passports were set to include cryptographically signed digital images to guarantee their authenticity. Although civil liberties groups have expressed concerns about the government using the new passports as a monitoring tool, Frank Moss, deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services at the U.S. Department of State, maintained that information will only be forwarded to centralized databases if there is a query over the authenticity of a passport. What is more, Moss says the passports would only include basic passport information.

Some technical experts have also warned that smart passports do not guarantee safety; adding that the new passports would only help to identify known suspects or people who have forged passports. Richard Clayton, a hardware security expert at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, adds that everyone involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks had a photo ID. Meanwhile, the European Union planned to spend 140 million euros to develop an interoperable biometric system, which would enable passports to carry fingerprints and iris scan biometric data. Such biometric information would be much easier to cross-reference than photographs of an individual with different hair styles and facial hair.