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Biometrics Facial, Fingerprint and Iris Recognition Technologies Still Face Challenges


The constant clamor for a centralized and overall better means of international identification has led for advanced technologies in the field of biometrics to surface.

Politicians believe that a more advanced identification system will ultimately make the world a safer place. However, several global studies have shed new light as the reliability and effectiveness of these technologies have been questioned.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently published an article, “Biometric National IDs and Passports: A False Sense of Security”, reporting various statistics about questionable accuracies associated with biometrics.

Several Airports in Europe and Australia, that have the facial recognition systems in place, was said to have either admitted passengers with mixed passports or show a margin of inaccuracy as high as 6% to 8%. For a busy terminal that has thousands of passengers scurrying about every day, a margin of error of that magnitude is far too large and unacceptable for EFF.

The United States and European Union both have laws that require foreign visitors to submit a fingerprint biometric when entering its territories. The EU goes a little further by having these fingerprint data implanted on a chip inside passports being issued by the 26 states comprising the Schengen area (the borderless zone within European countries).

The United Kingdom (a non-Schengen country) contemplated introducing fingerprints voluntarily as part of a new type of biometric passport, but decided against it. The UK government was also preparing to launch a biometric national identity card, to gather fingerprints from 15,000 volunteers, however the new government didn’t believe the cards would work and physically destroyed pilot identity databases.

In 2010, the UK National Policing Improvement Agency also conducted a trial to provide police officers with digital fingerprint scanners that could remotely match individuals’ fingerprints against a central database. The outcome of this project is unknown and, when questioned, the agency allegedly refused to disclose the error rates determined.

Iris scan identification has also reaped its own set of flack as the UK government has noted that not enough studies were being conducted on its reliability. They were concerned that minor and trivial factors such as long eyelashes, contact lenses and even watery eyes would not yield an accurate reading from the scan. Another hindrance in the full implementation of the Iris Scan Identification system was that it was particularly difficult to enroll handicapped individuals.

BiometricUpdate.com has also reported about studies suggesting the appearance of irises changing over time with ageing, hindering biometric scans.

The EFF article sums up that overall, “governments have failed to support their claim that such technologies actually improve security.”

Do you think governments can prove that biometrics technology improves security?

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