Biometric systems also face cultural challenges

Aside from technical hurdles, opinions vary on what methods are invasive

For Claudio Casuccio, director of General Dynamics Corp.'s business development unit in Rome, posing for an identification card photograph is not worrisome. But ask him to offer his finger or palm for a biometric vein scan, and he won't be as accommodating.

'That's looking inside your body,' Casuccio said. 'It is very invasive, in my opinion.'

Casuccio's view underscores the cultural differences that can arise as companies take their biometric solutions around the globe.

In Japan, for instance, internal vein pattern scans of fingers and palms are becoming popular for identity management. Electronics giants Fujitsu Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd. are promoting the technology. On May 11, the University of Tokyo Hospital announced it had adopted Fujitsu's palm vein authentication technology for its ID cards and discarded its fingerprint-based system.

Advocates of vein scanning say it avoids the perceived law enforcement stigma of fingerprinting and is highly accurate and resistant to tampering. But the technology has yet to proliferate beyond Japan.

Many governments around the world are using smart cards with embedded biometrics as IDs for homeland security and other purposes. In the United States, smart-card computer chips typically contain fingerprints and facial photographs.

Several countries are testing an array of newer biometrics, including those based on patterns in irises, retinas, finger and palm veins, hand geometry, 3-D facial images, voice, gait, odor and ear shape. The United Arab Emirates uses iris recognition in an ID program for foreign workers. Ben Gurion Airport in Israel identifies trusted travelers by hand geometry.

'The United States is not as advanced [as other areas of the world] in the large-scale implementations of ID management solutions,' said Jim Ganthier, director of defense, intelligence and public security solutions for Hewlett-Packard Co.

Several U.S. biometric projects are expected to roll out soon. Nearly 10 million federal employees are to get biometric ID cards under Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12. Another 10 million workers will get the federal Transportation Workers Identification Credential. And starting in October, new passports will include a chip with fingerprints and a digital photograph.

Some biometrics require near-perfect accuracy and need controlled conditions, while others put a premium on speed and convenience. Some signs point to a layering of different biometrics on a single card.

'Different applications require different modalities,' said Arun Ross, assistant professor at the Center for ID Technology Research at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. 'For cell phones, you might want to use voice recognition. For identification at a distance, gait and face recognition.' For multiple uses, he said, 'the trend is toward multiple-module biometrics.'

Of all the biometric technologies used widely today, the most popular is the fingerprint scan, said Al Vrancart, industry adviser for the International Card Manufacturers Association, a trade group based in Princeton, N.J. 'Fingerprint biometrics are accurate, inexpensive and adaptable for one-time or multitime usage,' he said.

Globally, facial images also are widely accepted, especially for verifying an identity from among a limited number of enrolled participants, known as 'one-to-one' matching. But there are questions about interoperability and long processing times, as well as the accuracy of 'one-to-many' matching systems, such as for a system designed to identify a terrorist's face in a crowd, said Victor Lee, an IBG consultant.

Comfort zone

Although 'facial recognition is not the most accurate, people are comfortable with it,' he added. 'In Europe, faces are the central biometric for a lot of identification cards.'

Three-dimensional facial imaging, while it takes much more processing power and is more expensive, is being touted as highly accurate and less susceptible to tampering.

But posing for a 3-D facial scan can be problematic. 'The idea of having to put one's face to a screen is simply off-putting to many, suggestive of a Big Brother intrusiveness,' ICMA's Vrancart said.

Another alternative is iris recognition, which is considered extremely accurate because irises are unique and unalterable.

Still, there could be resistance. 'Some people are reluctant about ... putting their face or their eyes close to a camera,' said Randy Vanderhoof, president of industry trade group Smart Card Alliance Inc. of Princeton Junction, N.J.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for GCN's sister publication Washington Technology.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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