Security: Biometric Style2013-08-28T14:59:14-04:00

Tiffany L. Vogel
April 25, 2003


Biometrics is an increasing industry and most likely will be a way of life in the future. It has advanced throughout time to become a refined source of security. The number of users displays the confidence in and need of biometrics. Although there are a few glitches concerning things such as privacy and security of biometrics itself, the conclusion still is a positive move towards the integration of a high tech biometric safeguard.


Imagine placing your hand on a scanner or looking directly into a camera and having a computerized system recognize and identify you. This may sound like a sci-fi preview, but actually it's an event that is becoming more and more common. The identification process that referred to is made possible through biometrics. This process is done by collecting and storing a person's physiological features for later comparison. It is a highly accurate system that works to identify or prevent theft and provide security. Banks, merchants, government agencies, and other businesses are finding biometrics easy and safe.


Thousands of years ago biometric verification was being practiced. "There are many references to individuals being formally identified via unique physiological parameters such as scars, measured physical criteria or a combination of features such as complexion, eye color, height and so on." (Biometric White Paper, 2002). Fingerprinting dates back as far as 14th century China. The Chinese used fingerprints as a form of signature. (Overview of Biometrics, 2001). In the 19th century researchers attempted to relate physical features and characteristics to criminal behavior. William Sheldon in 1949 suggested that a person's body build related to ones temperament. Ceasar Lombroso, around 1900, believed that the most dangerous criminals had physical characteristics that marked them as criminal. (Hewitt & Regoli, 2003). Because of theorists like these, many measuring devices were produced and more researchers came about. Thus the idea of measuring individual physical characteristics was born and continues to this day.

Fingerprinting was the first major break through that went international. Its unique-signature characteristic opened the door to biometrics. The first published account was a letter written by Dr. Henry Faulds to a British magazine published in 1880. In 1858 William Herschel began using fingerprints as identification in India. (Brief, 2002). This then led to other explorations such as iris scanning and facial recognition.

"In 1935 an article appeared in the New York State Journal of Medicine suggesting that the pattern of blood vessels on the retina could be used to identify an individual…In 1987, Drs. Leonard Flom and Aram Safir were awarded the patent for researching and documenting the potential of using the iris as a unique identifier." Yet, Dr. John Daugman developed the mathematical formulas that are used to measure the iris, in 1994. (Retinal, 2003). Other means of biometric identification have derived from the earlier forms.

Biometrics have become popular today. More and more sales are being processed to install the safety devices required to support biometric identification. Not to mention each methodology is being steadily improved and refined to become more reliable and easily deployable.

In recent years "…the unit price of biometric devices [has fallen] dramatically." (Biometric White Paper, 2002). This makes accessibility easier and less costly. The travel and tourism industry, internet and telephone transactions, and ATM machine use all are looking into future biometric use. "A recent report from the Institute of Management and Administration's Security Director Report survey predicts the use of biometrics will continue to increase… Among those not currently using biometrics, 18% said they will be ready to purchase the devices in the next two years." (Biometrics use projected to increase, 2001).

How it works

General biometric devices operate in the same way. The process begins with the retrieval of the chosen biometric. This means something such as a fingerprint is recorded about three times, to decrease any error, and recorded. This is known as the template. After obtaining the template it is than stored. The storage process varies. It can be stored within the biometric reader device itself, in a central repository, or in a portable device such as a chip card. These are the beginning phases.

After all information is recorded and stored the system is ready to function for its intended purpose. The first step in operation is the verification process. Not only does one have to provide the biometric, such as a fingerprint, but they must verify that this is indeed the claimer. This can be done by the use of a PIN number or ID card. It also provides an extra security step. Lastly there is a transaction storage device. It records all transactions made to allow the security department to review the daily happenings.

Fingerprint Verification

Fingerprint identification measures the minutiae and patterns. There is a larger variety of fingerprint devices than any other biometric device today. This method is also the most popular verification process due greatly to the relatively low cost, small size, and the ease of integration

Iris and Retinal Scanning

A pattern of blood vessels on the retina can identify an individual. Dr. Leonard Flam and Dr. Aram Safir researched the iris as a unique identifier in 1987. In 1994 at Cambridge University of England, Dr. John Daugman produced the mathematical formulas that are used to measure the varying characteristics that are etched into the human eye (Retinal 2003).

The only disadvantage of this form of biometrics is the lack of funding, disease susceptibility, and user unfriendliness. The biggest asset is its perfect performance. It also has one of the quickest identification confirmations. The color in one's eye is called the iris. It is made up of more that 400 distinguishing characteristics, yet only 260 of those 400 can be used in the identification process. Two ways to do this are passive and active. The active system operates six to four inches from the camera to the user. It requires the user to move around (back and forth) to allow the camera to focus. The passive system is operable from anywhere within three feet of the series of cameras.

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is the newest form of biometrics. It is also cheaper to operate than most other biometric techniques. The biggest break through with facial recognition is the new software that can "recognize faces within a crowd in the attempt to match them to stored images of known criminals" (Face, 2003).

Basically, facial recognition is just that. A high quality camera takes the initial photo and the computer records certain features. These features range from two-dimensional grayscale imagery to distance ratios between certain features.

Signature Recognition

The least controversial application is signature recognition. It is also the cheapest. "…cost as little as $99.00" (Signature 2003). The speed, pen pressure, direction, stroke length, and separation of pen from paper are all special characteristics given to a person's signature. Since most people give their signature out on a daily basis, it's one of the most easily recordable and obtainable type of biometrics.

Future Predictions

A survey conducted by SEARCH, funded by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, and produced by Dr. Alan F. Westin of Privacy Consulting Group, found biometrics to be increasingly popular. The poll was done on more than 2, 000 adults resulting in the following acceptance percentages:

  • Signature dynamics: 85%
  • Fingerprint scan: 83%
  • Facial recognition: 83%

An overall total of 80 percent support the government and private organizations' use of biometrics to assist in the prevention of crime (Biometrics Gaining, 2003).

Predictions by Frost Fr Sullivan have projected the biometrics market will increase from $93.4 million in 2001 to $2.053 billion in 2006. Fingerprint scanning will most likely lead the way. In 2003, $100 billion is expected to be spent on homeland security (Gips, 2002). "…the healthcare industry is adopting signature identification for the submission of new drug applications and the computer industry is using signature identification for computer system access" (Signature, 2003). "…many people feel that biometric technologies are imperative for our security in the wake of the terrorist attacks. They also argue that it could be a great tool for apprehending other criminals as well" (Facial, 2003).

Modern Use

Biometrics is used widely today, for reasons such as restricting access to places like government and military sites or safeguarding ATMs. "…Bank United […] has placed iris recognition devices in ATMs within Kroger supermarkets in Texas and also a project demonstrated at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina" (Retinal, 2003). The CIA, FBI, and NASA have all placed retinal scanning devices into their high security access facilities. The IRS has used signature verification in the electronically filed tax returns and "…pharmaceutical companies are using it to reduce the overall cost and administration of drug regulatory submissions to the FDA" (Signature, 2003). Since 2001, Kroger supermarkets have also implemented equipment that allows shoppers to purchase items by pressing their finger on a scanner (Black, 2001). There are many other current users, but one of the biggest concerns today is airport safety. "More than two million people travel to Israel each year, and many go through Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, one of the world's busiest air terminals" (Mesenbrink, Airport, 2002). Each traveler is given an ID card and is required to register their hand print before proceeding. This process allows the airport security to focus more on the unknown travelers giving them more flexibility.

Another impressive use is the fingerprint identification system installed into the Kenworth T800 truck. The truck will not operate without the authorized users fingerprint (Mesenbrink, Truckin', 2002).


Biometrics are safe. They are non-intrusive and designed to work effectively under variably demanding conditions. Because biometric data is more personal than Social Security numbers, it worries people about the security or intervention of such devices. "No new laws are on the books to regulate the storing and selling of biometric information" (Black, 2002). Jane Black has looked into creating a Biometric Bill of Rights. She believes it should focus on scope, access, storage, and segregation of data. Unfortunately nothing has been produced as of yet.


Biometrics are highly effective and reliable. Several banks in Texas have decreased check fraud by more than 50 percent after biometrics were used. Employers especially like certain devices which have been saving them millions of dollars concerning time and attendance abuse. Fraudulent welfare claims have also dropped over 25 percent when a biometric verification device was introduced. Los Angeles County, California, estimates that it has saved $55 million in fraud through the past eight years by using fingerprint identification. New York has saved a whopping $314 million through the use of biometric identification methods since 1995. Texas and Pennsylvania are predicted to follow suit (McDowell, 2002).

Biometrics will continue to grow and improve. New laws will be created to coincide with the new technology. Our way of life will alter as we carry into the future. Maybe one day security will be one step ahead of the criminal.


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Tiffany L. Vogel is completing her bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice Administration at York College of Pennsylvania and is a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. This paper won Honorable Mention in the 2003 ASIS International Student Paper Competition.