Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

Biometrics "Security Technology": It Is Important for Students to Understand That Technology Can Be Used as Part of a Solution to a Problem. (Resources in Technology)

Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

Biometrics "Security Technology": It Is Important for Students to Understand That Technology Can Be Used as Part of a Solution to a Problem. (Resources in Technology)

Article excerpt

As every citizen of the United States strives to cope with the harsh realities of September 11, 2001 and the war against terrorism that we are now engaged in, one major issue that confronts us all is that of security. Are there technological systems that could aid us in our ability to detect and deter terrorists and in so doing help a nation regain the freedom of movement and the feeling of security that until recently was a cornerstone of our society? The answer may lie in the further development, utilization and implementation of biometric identification technologies.

Biometrics Defined

Biometrics is the science of using digital technology to identify individuals based on the individual's unique physical and biological qualities (Page, 2001). Biometrics can be used to verify a person's identity by electronically capturing a physical characteristic or a personal trait. Biometric security systems are used for two distinct purposes: identification and verification. Identification is the process of establishing a person's identity by comparing a measured biometric against a database of stored information. Verification compares a measured biometric with one known to come from a particular individual. All biometrics can be used for verification, but only those that are unique to an individual (i.e. fingerprints, iris scanning, facial recognition) can be used for identification.

History of Biometrics

The science of biometrics has been used for identification purposes since at least the time of the Pharaohs, who used height measurement to verify a person's identity. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt would also authenticate decrees by adding their thumbprint to a document along with their signature. Fingerprints have been used by law enforcement agencies for more than a century. In 1893, Sir Francis Galton demonstrated that no two fingerprints are alike, even in cases of identical twins. Fingerprinting technology remained relatively simple for many decades. Fingerprints were made by direct physical impressions from hand to ink and stored on paper cards. Criminologists conducted visual comparisons from prints that they had on file against samples taken at the crime scene. The first modern biometric device was introduced commercially in the late 1960s when a machine called the Identimat, which measured finger length, was installed for a time-keeping application at Shearson Hamil on Wall Street. Today, with the decreasing cost associated with biometric solutions, the speed with which a biometric transaction can be completed, and the non-obtrusive nature of biometric scanners, the field of biometrics is emerging as a high-tech solution to the question of positive individual identification and verification (Page, 2001).

Biometric Technologies

Biometrics can be divided into two distinct categories: physiological characteristics and behavioral characteristics. Physiological characteristics are physical traits such as your fingerprints, hand geometry, eye patterns, and facial features. Behavioral characteristics are generally considered those characteristics that are based upon what you do, like your voice print, typing patterns, and even your gait. Physiological biometrics are generally considered more reliable but are typically more intrusive and more expensive to implement. Behavioral biometrics are considered less conclusive because they are subject to certain limitations such as illness and imitation.


Fingerprinting is by far the most widely used method of verifying a person's identity. This method of identification has been in use for over 100 years, mainly by law enforcement agencies, but with advances in computer technology and communication networks its use is spreading rapidly. Digital fingerprinting is now so inexpensive that some companies are incorporating it into PCs. Compaq is piloting a fingerprint ID system on computers that are being marketed in Japan, with a price tag of about $135. …

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