Moss Bluff Elementary School in Lake Charles, La., wanted to speed up the cafeteria line and reduce errors in lunch accounting. So the school bought a Fujitsu PalmSecure biometric ID system, which has a scanner that reads the unique patterns of blood vessels in a human palm, enabling a positive ID, much like a fingerprint would.
When school officials sent out a letter announcing the program, some parents freaked out.
The parents had concerns centering around the belief that all forms of biometric ID constitute what the Christian Bible calls “the mark of the beast.”
Here’s what it says in Revelation 13:15-18: “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, OR the name of the beast, or the number of his name … and his number is six hundred threescore and six.”
I was surprised to learn while researching this column that opposition to any sort of biometric ID systems for payment might be widespread among some Christian groups.
A Christian blogger named Elwood Sanders summed up the biblical case for rejection of biometric ID like this: “Let me state my position clear: NO BIOMETRIC ID CARD! PERIOD! Every evangelical Christian needs to say NO to this kind of thing.”
The case of Moss Bluff Elementary highlights our current reality with biometric ID technology: It’s becoming so mainstream that schools are using it in their cafeterias. But some people are rejecting it based on religious grounds.
So will pervasive biometric ID be adopted? Or rejected? The answer is less clear than you might think.
How evil is biometric ID?
Opposition to biometric ID is pretty widespread, and most of that opposition is based not on prophecy, but on concerns about privacy.
A Senate hearing last month revealed the U.S. government’s own concerns about the use of facial-recognition technology, both by government law enforcement agencies and private companies like Facebook.
Europe is broadly resisting Facebook’s facial recognition initiative, especially Germany.
A professor from Spain’s Universidad Autonoma de Madrid told the Black Hat conference recently that researchers there have come up with a way to hack iris recognition systems that fools the systems into identifying one person as another, raising fears that the main benefit of biometrics — certainty — may not be as reliable as promised.
There are many privacy organizations and advocates with serious reservations about the use of biometric identification technology of any kind.
Moreover, many people associate fingerprinting with criminality, and they just don’t like the idea of it.
In general, privacy advocates view biometric tools — especially those that can operate from a distance, such as facial recognition systems — as grease on the slippery slope toward an Orwellian future in which the government can track everyone at all times with perfect accuracy.
So we find ourselves in a strange position in which some religious conservatives and some secular liberal privacy advocates both agree that biometric identification is evil.
Both groups can be vocal and influential. I predict that general opposition to biometrics will grow strong over the next few years.
But so will support for the technology.
Your body is the credit card
The cashless society is coming. The first step is the use of smartphones to make wireless payments.
Google, Apple and others are pushing hard to move money out of your wallet and into your phone.
The idea is that you’ll walk into a store, transfer money from your account to the store, then walk out. No wallet necessary.
But without your wallet, how do they know it’s really you?
Android phones are expected to increasingly offer fingerprint ID systems and other biometric tools.
It’s just a matter of time before a majority of Americans are carrying biometric ID scanners in their own pockets.
Florida schools are talking about using biometric ID technology not only in the cafeteria, but also in the library and on the bus.
Japan is looking at using facial-recognition systems and other tools to speed up immigration procedures at two major airports.
A day care center in Minnesota is using fingerprint ID to make sure people picking up children are authorized to do so.
Biometric technology is even being proposed as the solution for cloud-computing security.
The people who accept and approve of biometric ID technology do so because it adds security and convenience to our everyday lives.
So it appears we’re headed for a clash. On the one hand, you have a huge push for biometrics to replace signatures, passwords and photo IDs.
On the other, you have a large number of people who consider biometrics an unparalleled evil, and they will refuse to participate.
Who’s right and who’s wrong? Is biometric technology the answer to our security problems? Or is it just plain evil?
The first time that I heard it, I immediately dismissed it as one of those internet rumors that spread so quickly that there is no way to confirm it. In any case, it sounded so far out there that I didn’t even try.
We get emails like this all the time — most of them are exactly that — well-meaning, but sensationalist rumors.
This new law requires an RFID chip implanted in all of us. This chip will not only contain your personal information with tracking capability but it will also be linked to your bank account. And get this, Page 1004 of the new law (dictating the timing of this chip), reads, and I quote: “Not later than 36 months after the date of the enactment”.
It is now the law of the land that by March 23rd 2013 we will all be required to have an RFID chip underneath our skin and this chip will be link to our bank accounts as well as have our personal records and tracking capability built into it.
A class II implantable device is an “implantable radio frequency transponder system for patient identification and health information.” The purpose of a class II device is to collect data in medical patients such as “claims data, patient survey data, standardized analytic files that allow for the pooling and analysis of data from disparate data environments, electronic health records, and any other data deemed appropriate by the Secretary.”
When I went to check it out, I found all the usual sources; page after page of blogs and conspiracist sites, but not one single mainstream news story that confirmed the rumors.
Despite their protests of neutrality, I find pretty much all the so-called ‘debunking’ sites like FactCheck.org or Snopes.com tend to debunk rumors that favor conservatives with considerably more gusto than they do those that favor liberals and liberal causes.
Which is more or less what I found when I finally did check it out at Snopes.com. Although the site labeled the rumor “false” in its explanation of why it was false, Snopes essentially confirmed all the details.
Snopes mocked the rumors origin as being rooted in “mark of the beast” scenarios, even using a little wordplay from Ecclesiastes in saying such rumors are “nothing new under the sun” and that it is “just as false as all such previous rumors.”
Ok. Good. So it has no resemblance to reality. Whew! Well . . . not so fast.
The page numbers and language of the law as referenced in the emails are NOT part of the final Obamacare bill, but they were in the early versions!
The mere fact that there was an effort to mandate implantable RFID chips into human beings as a health care measure is astonishing. The fact that it didn’t make it this time simply means that it didn’t make it this time. I suppose one might argue that it will never come up again, but such an argument flies in the face of history.
In the end, according to the Snopes entry, one finds that the rest of the rumor is also true in most details except that at the moment, it has not yet been mandatory.
In other words, Obamacare only invites you, rather than forcing you to. You don’t have to get “chipped” if you don’t want to.
On that basis, Snopes pronounces the rumor “False.”
Lessee . . . there was a time when the government only invited you to get a Social Security number, too. It also used to clearly say on the face of the card, “Not for Use For Identification Purposes”.
Once the Act was passed by Congress and signed into law, the Treasury Department simply issued a directive ordering the creation of a Social Security “account”, like in a bank, and mandated the issuance of an “account number” to take some of the sting out of being assigned a number.
It wasn’t until 1943 that FDR issued an Executive Order linking the Social Security number to all other Federal agencies. Still, resistance was high and lots of folks refused to enroll.
They had just watched the transformation of Europe as too much power became concentrated in the hands of too few bureaucrats. They witnessed centralized government transform Europe into totalitarianism, war and ruin.
The persecution of European Jewry awakened America’s Christian population as they began to see events developing in line with the Bible’s warnings and signs signifying the onset of what Scripture calls the last days.
For Americn Christians in the 1940’s being forced to take part in an economic numbering system sounded too much like the Mark of the Beast.
In 1949, George Orwell‘s anti-socialist novel, “1984” furnished the name to the faceless discomfort Americans felt at being numbered like cattle and the fear of how it might be used by some future “Big Brother.”
It wasn’t until 1961 that the IRS made it mandatory that one have a Social Security number in order to pay one’s taxes. In 1965, the passage of Medicare captured everybody over 65, linking Medicare coverage to one’s Social Security number.
Your Social Security card still said, “Not to be used for identification purposes” right on the face of it, but that came to mean, “Not to be used for identification purposes, except by the government.”
By 1966, the VA started using SSNs to identify patients. By 1969, the DoD began phasing out service numbers and replacing them with SSN’s.
Then, in 1970, Congress passed the Bank Records and Foreign Transactions Act, also known as Public Law 91-508. The Act required all banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions and brokers/dealers in securities to obtain the SSNs of all of their customers.
Also, financial institutions were required to file a report with the IRS, including the SSN of the customer, for any transaction involving more than $10,000.
Ooops. The card still said “not to be used for identification purposes.”
People started to get nervous and so the SSA commissioned a task force to reassure the public that it wouldn’t break its promise not to make an SSN a cradle-to-grave government number that would ever result in a citizen having to produce “his papers.”
I’m not speaking of ancient history (well, at least not to some of you) — I remember the debate. The SSA issued recommendation aimed at calming public fears, proposing the SSA take a “cautious and conservative” position toward SSN use and do nothing to promote the use of the SSN as an identifier.
That was the public recommendation that got all the headlines. They also recommended “mass SNN enumeration” by requiring every student to get a Social Security number in order to register in school.
In 1933, Social Security was sold as a public pension plan to provide a social safety net for the elderly. Less than forty years after pledging NEVER to force anyone into the system, the system was forcing five-year olds to sign up as a condition of going to school!
The Privacy Act of 1975 was a Congressional effort to turn a pickle back into a cucumber. Alarmed at how the SSN was being transformed into a secret password to unlock a person’s life, it passed Public Law 93-579 to try and undo the damage.
It forbade the government from withholding a benefit simply because that person refused to disclose his SSN.
The same year, it passed Public Law 93-647 making disclosure of one’s SSN a condition of eligibility for AFDC benefits and gave access to SSN information to the Office of Child Support enforcement Parent Locator Service.
The Tax Reform Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-455) formally dropped any pretense and officially declared your SSN is your cradle-to-grave identification number and the fact that it also serves as a password into your entire life story is just too darned bad.
It made the following amendments to the Social Security Act:
To allow use by the States of the SSN in the administration of any tax, general public assistance, driver’s license or motor vehicle registration law within their jurisdiction and to authorize the States to require individuals affected by such laws to furnish their SSNs to the States;
To make misuse of the SSN for any purpose a violation of the Social Security Act; To make, under federal law, unlawful disclosure or compelling disclosure of the SSN of any person a felony, punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.
To amend section 6109 of the Internal Revenue Code to provide that the SSN be used as the tax identification number (TIN) for all tax purposes.
While the Treasury Department had been using the SSN as the TIN by regulation since 1962, this law codified that requirement.
The Federal Advisory Committee on False Identification recommended that penalties for misuse should be increased and evidence requirements tightened; rejected the idea of national identifier and did not even consider the SSN for such a purpose.
If you followed the link I provided at the beginning of our little history lesson on the evolution of your Social Security number, you probably noticed that every single fact cited above was sourced from an official Social Security website owned by the US government.
Now, let’s take a fresh look at the relevant Scripture, just to keep everything together in the same place.
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” (Revelation 13:16-17)
And so now, we return to the rumor that says:
“It is now the law of the land that by March 23rd 2013 we will all be required to have an RFID chip underneath our skin and this chip will be linked to our bank accounts as well as have our personal records and tracking capability built into it.”
As Snopes points out, the rumor is false. They wanted to put that RFID provision in, but realized they didn’t have the votes. So, while it was included in the early drafts, that provision was dropped. For now.
So, its false. For now.
For most Americans, nowhere are the repercussions of their nation’s increasingly insecure and outdated national identity systems more apparent than when they pass through security at the airport. In contrast to America’s struggles to adapt its decades-old systems to handle modern challenges, India is undertaking one of the grandest technology experiments ever attempted. In a massive, nationwide project, the government is attempting to collect the demographic information, fingerprints, and iris scans of all 1.2 billion residents.
With this information, the government hopes to issue a unique 12-digit “Aadhaar” (which means “foundation”) identity number to every man, woman, and child. If successful, India will build a major new piece of technological infrastructure for a modern economy, while fundamentally transforming the way residents interact with their government.
There are enormous logistical difficulties associated with the Aadhaar plan, as well as serious privacy and security risks. Doubts remain as to whether India’s people and institutions are prepared to handle the program’s massive enrollment process and dramatic impact.
Identifying the Problem
Proponents of the plan argue that it will lead to a fairer and more equitable distribution of public benefits. Currently, each governmental department works in isolation, maintaining its own separate databases and records. Over time, systematic corruption and mismanagement have populated these databases with fraudulent information. The Indian departments handling social support programs are often the most abused.
India’s federalist system of strong state governments, in addition to its national government, has resulted in each state and municipality exhibiting drastically different e-government capabilities. It is often in the poorest states where the worst abuses occur. Hundreds of millions of Indians rely on the help of the state, but there are still many places where most of the goods allocated for the poorest of families are stolen before they even reach them–and the social costs are enormous.
Aadhaar may prove to be the most far-reaching and large-scale technology system ever to be implemented in a democratic nation, and it was done with almost no debate.
There is a major issue at the root of these problems—large portions of the population lack even the most basic verifiable identity documents. There are countless millions living on the margins of society who have yet to receive any official recognition from their state or national government. As a result, access to financial services remains extremely limited for most of the country, especially in rural areas.
For the poorest and most vulnerable groups, this lack of access is devastating; they are unable to receive their fair share of benefits, make investments, or accumulate savings. These families are just one disaster away from being entirely wiped out.
Reshaping and Reforming
Innovative banking technologies capable of reaching these marginalized groups could be built atop the national ID system, presenting an opportunity to reshape the nation and help lift hundreds of millions from poverty. Developers aim to create sophisticated Aadhaar-linked bank accounts that could allow for a system of digital payment, such that two villagers could send each other money with just their identity numbers and an Internet connection. The mobile phone market could offer a gateway for India’s masses into the financial system. With almost a billion cell phones in the country, more than twice as many Indians have access to a cell phone than a toilet.
India is a land of small businesses—and from every indication, mom-and-pop shops can’t wait to reap the benefits that Aadhaar has to offer. Residents’ ability to shop will no longer be limited by the amount of cash in their pockets. Additionally, unique identity numbers are the key to bringing multiple different personal records together. They can serve to facilitate beneficial services such as health insurance and background checks.
Though well-intentioned, Aadhaar could facilitate surveillance and digitized discrimination of whole segments of the population, grouped by their undesirable characteristics.
These technologies will also enable government agencies to directly target their benefits. Instead of the current inefficient cash distribution system, agencies will be able to electronically transfer money directly into a resident’s account. Residents will be free to choose where to buy their subsidized goods, and thus will gain purchasing power. This will create major incentives for distributors to adopt competitive, customer-oriented practices.
Aadhaar will allow for rigorous digital audit trails. For that reason, its supporters claim that it will lead to billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers and a greater degree of accountability in public distribution.
For India, Aadhaar represents not only a chance to better serve its people but also an opportunity to showcase its nascent technology prowess.
The prime minister of India selected Nandan Nilekani—a respected IT executive and the former CEO of IT outsourcing giant Infosys—to head the authority responsible for designing and implementing the new system. An unelected official, Nilekani has received the rank and status of a cabinet minister. A private executive involved in this level of Indian government is unprecedented.
Yet little about this program is business as usual. Government contracts in India are sometimes handed out based on connections or bribes. But when it came time to choose vendors for the first biometric enrollment phase, vendors had to compete with each other to see who could provide the cheapest, most accurate verifications. With a model rarely seen in government, three companies have been chosen and given 50 percent, 30 percent, and 20 percent of the duties—with the caveat that they will be continually reassessed and reassigned based on their performance.
Hundreds of millions of Indians rely on the help of the state, but there are still many places where most of the goods allocated for the poorest of families are stolen before they even reach them–and the social costs are enormous.
Nilekani is looking to leverage India’s biggest public and private institutions in a partnership model, where dozens of different agencies will assist in the enrollment process. Post offices, banks, hospitals, agencies, and local NGOs—to name a few—will all serve as hubs where residents can go to enroll for their identity numbers. Those with no reliable documents can be “introduced” by a trusted party who can vouch for the person in question.
Nilekani’s stated goal is to enroll 600 million people in four years, an ambitious target that could become a reality if he can trigger a new standard for excellence in Indian government. As one of India’s most accomplished private executives, Nilekani has proven himself as a capable and ethical leader in the past. Yet he will face considerable infrastructural, technological, political, and cultural challenges along the way.
Immense Challenges Ahead
Of all the issues that a successful implementation will face, perhaps the single largest challenge is the colossal scale of the data involved.
The system needs to account for every single birth and death in a country where there are 1.8 million babies born every month. It needs servers capable of handling millions of identity verifications every day. The possibility of human error looms large over every step of the process: For example, there are reports that in some areas, enrollers have accidentally submitted their own biometrics when trying to demonstrate to others how the technology works. Due to a lack of coordination, some populations have had their biometric data collected by multiple different vendors and agencies.
Many question India’s ability to securely store such massive amounts of sensitive data. Developers are encouraging the nation’s largest public and private agencies to create their own extensive Aadhaar-based databases and smart cards, including biometric information. Unlike a credit card number or name, a person can never change his fingerprints or iris patterns. If stolen, his security may be forever compromised.
Although it has quickly become a technology powerhouse in the private sector, India lacks the types of data protection laws needed to handle modern-day technological security issues. The country’s institutions are years away from developing effective enforcement mechanisms, even though more than 200 million Aadhaar numbers have already been issued.
On top of these daunting challenges, parts of the country still lack reliable electricity, let alone an Internet connection. A national format for addresses and names does not exist. The powerful and entrenched Indian bureaucracy is made up of hundreds of different entities that will be required to update their systems and comply with procedures.
‘Big Brother’ in Hindi?
Although enrollment is described as voluntary, in practice, residents will find it to be virtually obligatory. Many important public and private services have agreed to require an Aadhaar number for participation. If a resident chooses not to enroll, he will be denied the basic rights and entitlements he would have previously received.
Unique identity numbers can serve to facilitate beneficial services such as health insurance and background checks.
Several of the most important public departments rely on the collection of sensitive data—like race, religion, caste, income, and health—in order to carry out their core functions. States use income information to allocate public goods, and poverty alleviation programs often target marginalized groups. Though well-intentioned, Aadhaar could facilitate surveillance and digitized discrimination of whole segments of the population, grouped by their undesirable characteristics.
For its part, the Indian government is already distributing state-of-the-art surveillance technologies to its military and police forces. It is unclear what can be done to prevent abuses of information by authorities—especially with so many different entities having access to portions of the information.
India’s politicians have been quick to show off Aadhaar as a symbol of progress in their commitment to fight corruption. Although its developers should be commended for their commitment to some levels of transparency, the program itself was created quickly and quietly. In the world’s biggest democracy, a program to collect personal, sensitive information from every individual was introduced and implemented with barely any public debate. It continues to exist without parliamentary sanction or judicial oversight.
Aadhaar may prove to be the most far-reaching and large-scale technology system ever to be implemented in a democratic nation, and it was done with almost no debate.
An Unresolved Matter
India faces a situation that may sound familiar to many Americans. The country has a group of states that share a porous border with an impoverished neighbor. For decades now, illegal immigrants have been coming across the border and inhabiting the border states or moving into the mainland cities. The local population is furious with the national government for allowing the influx of immigrants, and smuggling and ethnic violence have become increasingly intense. A border fence is being built, but it is insufficient and has largely been a failure.
The system needs to account for every single birth and death in a country where there are 1.8 million babies born every month. It needs servers capable of handling millions of identity verifications every day.
India must decide how to handle the approximately 20 to 30 million illegal immigrants that have come from its northern neighbor, Bangladesh. In the last 50 years, India’s northeast front—a small group of eight states wedged between Myanmar and China—has experienced rapid demographic changes. Residents of the area have grown increasingly frustrated with New Delhi’s inability to stop what they have called a “foreign invasion.” This tension has led to brutal massacres, frequent strikes, and widespread instability.
Meanwhile, the trafficking of illegal goods has taken hold as the primary economy. Border security forces have found themselves consistently outnumbered and outmaneuvered. Maoist guerillas, local insurgents, and Pakistani-linked terrorist groups are thought to be recruiting and training in the area, actively plotting attacks on mainland cities. The ruling Congress Party is accused of aiding illegal immigrants with protective laws in exchange for a “vote-bank.” With the help of corrupt local officials, Bangladeshis reportedly have been able to secure rights and entitlements and move to other parts of the country.
The census data collection exercises include a question asking each resident his nationality. Alarmingly, the enumerator must accept the resident’s answer without challenge. Illegal immigrants all over the nation will be allowed to “declare” themselves Indian in the government’s primary information database. Once an “Indian” in the main, central database, it becomes much easier for an illegal immigrant to obtain other documents and services, many of which are used as proof in obtaining an Aadhaar number.
There are major concerns that this provision may inadvertently serve as a backdoor route to citizenship and voting rights for tens of millions of illegal immigrants. In many parts of the country, especially the northeast, this type of large-scale disruption may provoke more violence and further resentment. With no way to physically distinguish between citizens and legal and illegal immigrants, it is hard to envision any type of lasting stability in the region.
All Eyes on India: The Global Implications
Any system that is able to overcome India’s abundance of challenges is likely to be studied and replicated all over the world. Security and development experts from many governments will be paying close attention to how India handles the difficulties posed by religious fundamentalists, foreign infiltrators, and corrupt, ineffective governance. The Obama administration has recently explored several ways to improve America’s outdated identity systems in an attempt to curb illegal immigration, improve national defense, and encourage commerce.
The Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT entry program is currently the largest biometric database in the world. In Aadhaar’s first enrollment phase, two of the three main providers of biometric technology to India are American companies. If this technology proves to be effective for wide-scale use, it may become commonplace for high-level transactions across the developed world, as well.
Much like in India, the issues of importance to concerned citizens in the United States should be the quality of public debate, the security and storage of personal data, the enforcement of a limited mandate, and the maintenance of personal liberties to the greatest extent possible. History has shown that the selective salesmanship of a program’s advantages without an honest admission of its dangers is bound to lead to a program that is viewed with suspicion, limited in use, and one data breach away from a full-blown scandal.
With its massive population, booming economy, and entrepreneurial spirit, India may offer to the world the ultimate case study for digital identity technologies. As these systems become ubiquitous, they are changing the definition of citizenship to include, for the first time, an electronic component. The historic Aadhaar identity program puts India at the forefront of a technological revolution that is quietly reshaping the world.
Sure, it’s cool and easy to pay for stuff with the wave of a smartphone — but why bother when you could just use your face?
Fast-evolving biometric technologies are promising to deliver the most convenient, secure connection possible between you and your bank account — using your body itself in place of all of those wallets and purses stuffed with cash, change and plastic cards.
Biometrics is the science of humans’ physiological or behaviourial characteristics and it’s being used to develop technology that recognizes and matches unique patterns in human fingerprints, faces and eyes and even sweat glands and buttock pressure.
Its applications in the financial realm are a potentially huge time and effort saver, but that’s just a beginning for the technology’s usefulness.
In addition to carrying other tokens and some knowledge, like your PIN for ATMs — you are you, so why not be used to authenticate yourself?“The basic thing is that you are the person who has to be authenticated for transactions.
In addition to carrying other tokens and some knowledge, like your PIN for ATMs — you are you, so why not be used to authenticate yourself?” says IBM researcher Nalina Ratha.
As technologies advance, the use of biometrics in everyday life is shifting from traditional law enforcement and government security to a host of more consumer-friendly applications.
Touch payment technologies that employ fingerprints as an identifier are already in the works, Mr. Ratha says, and despite being hundreds of years old, fingerprinting and its uses are still developing rapidly. In fact, IBM introduced fingerprint scan pads for personal log-ins on its then-laptops (which are now produced by Lenovo Group Ltd.) back in 2004.
The next generation of fingerprinting is being developed to go beyond simple recognition to incorporate pressure sensors that can determine if a device is being touched by a live object or not, which helps with fraud detection.
“Fraud can be done if people design [fake prints] using some moulding and they can create a gummy finger and fool the biometric technology,” said Svetlana Yanushkevich, co-founder of the Biometrics Technology Lab at the University of Calgary.
A New York-based technology company says its patented sweat-gland recognition technology will help add even more security to existing biometric devices that may be susceptible to fraud.
“With most of the biometric technologies, there are ways around most of those technologies — you could lift somebody’s fingerprint and create a Latex copy, you can create a contact lens to copy somebody’s iris and so on and so forth. We think we’ll be the only technology that’s ‘spoof-proof,’ ” says Scott McNulty, president and chief executive of
The company’s One Touch cube, set to be on the market within a year, is an external device that users can hook up to their computers and mobile electronics to replace passwords for Internet logins and banking. The cube reads a personal sweat gland barcode to verify identity from the moisture on a user’s fingertip.
“With one touch, you can log right into your social networking site, right onto your page. You can instantly purchase something without having a credit card or form of ID,” he says.
In addition to the metaphorical connotation, he trademarked his technology as “the human barcode” because the sweat-gland patterns create a numerical reading like a computerized barcode.
Vancouver-based Face Forensics Inc., a face-recognition software company, is also transitioning its products to more transactional-based uses from their traditional law enforcement and government access mandate — the company typically works with governments around the world on e-passports as well as registry systems, such a licence plate databases.
Chief executive Iain Drummond says Face Forensic’s software platform is the only one in the world that can recognize a face based on a partial image. “So, for instance, a criminal wearing a balaclava or someone whose face is obscured by something in front of them,” he says.
The move to digital tech for travel is happening in Canada too, which started unrolling e-passports this year.
Travellers who want to avoid long border-crossing lines can also sign up for the Canadian Border Services Agency’s Nexus program, which uses kiosks to scan the iris of a person’s eye and verify their identity.
But recognition technology doesn’t end at the hand or face.
Thanks to Japanese researchers at the Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology, a car seat is being developed that aims to identify a driver by reading body pressure — technology dubbed “butt biometrics” by some tech press following its introduction last year.
Beyond simple identification, biometric situational awareness tools can also help make a judgment call. For example, facial expression recognition is not just about identifying a person, but drawing conclusions about their emotional state.
“There are major expressions that can be linked to emotions, such as neutral, sad, happy, exhausted or hungry, and so on,” Ms. Yanushkevich says.
Related technology is being developed for the health-care and biomedical fields.
“Think about the care homes for the elderly. Expressions are important if these facilities are equipped with sensors. For example, the facial expression can tell you if the patient was in pain,” she says.
Thermal monitoring technology has already been used at airports to detect travellers with elevated body temperature that may by carrying diseases, Ms. Yanushkevich notes.
If we see the expression that the person is very tired or sad, it can give feedback. And it can improve the gaming environmentVideo gaming has also adopted situational awareness technology — Microsoft Inc.’s Kinect device reacts to user voice command and gestures — but they could also incorporate facial expression recognition to put a gamer’s mood into play.
“If we see the expression that the person is very tired or sad, it can give feedback. And it can improve the gaming environment,” Ms. Yanushkevich explained.
Industry players say they hope the trend towards biometrics in consumer products spells the end of the negative stigma associated with the field.
“Biometrics is something that’s used by governments, it’s used by ‘Big Brother’ to keep an eye on us and we want to change that,” says Mr. McNulty.
“We think biometrics is something that can be actually used by the people and it becomes their technology that they use to protect themselves.”