Biometrics technologies go head-to-hand

In a biometrics face-off between facial recognition and hand geometry, hand geometry wins hands down. For now.

The two technologies, which can be used with smart cards, were compared Wednesday at the CardTech-SecurTech show in Washington.

Hand geometry, in use since 1986, is the oldest practical biometrics technique. Recognitions Systems Inc. of Campbell, Calif., claims the technology has a 45 percent share of the access control and time-and-attendance markets, said RSI marketing director Bill Spence.

The template used to verify identity can be as small as 9 bytes, and the equal error rate'the point at which false positives match false negatives'is about 0.1 percent.

"Facial recognition is a much younger technology than hand geometry," said Jurgen Pampus, sales and marketing director for Cognitec Systems of Dresden, Germany, a maker of facial recognition systems. Equal error rates are about 1 percent and the template is about 500 bytes.

But the well-established use of facial photos on IDs and emerging standards for biometric travel documents could give facial recognition the edge in border control applications in coming years, Pampus said.

Hand geometry already is being used in border control. It is the biometric feature used in the Immigration and Naturalization Service's INSPASS program, established in 1995.

"It was the government's first shot at a frequent-travelers program," Spence said. International travelers undergo a background check, then are enrolled in a hand geometry system. Users can bypass some customs and INS stops by having identity verified with a hand reader.

The program started at JFK airport in New York and the Newark, N.J., airport, and eventually was expanded to nine airports. But it has been sharply scaled back since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"It was not a security program, it was a convenience," Spence said.

Although a similar program developed for Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport has proved effective, hand geometry has not taken off for security applications in this country.

Australia is piloting a facial-recognition program at airports for physical-access security and border control. The system compares passport photos with a photo made of the traveler or airport worker on the spot, and also searches photos in immigration watch lists for matches.

The United States is requiring the use of biometrics in passports for foreign visitors, and the International Standards Organization is expected to finalize standards for these biometric features later this year. The passports will include digitized facial images and two fingerprints.

Facial recognition may then be fighting it out with fingerprints as the dominant technology in biometric security.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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