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article imageLook Deep Into My Eyes: Biometry Is No Longer Science Fiction

By Daniela Wiegmann     Apr 13, 2002 in Technology
HANOVER (dpa) - Biometry has been a standard part of science fiction for decades now. A blink of the eye is enough to open heavy portals and reveal secret treasure troves, as if by magic.

In reality, the development of reliable monitoring systems based on body characteristics such as fingerprints, facial features, and iris recognition has been a tediously difficult process, largely because of the high error rates that had to be overcome.

But after decades of research, the producers of this technology have succeeded in bringing biometry a long way towards becoming a practical reality. At the recent CeBIT computer fair in Hanover, Germany, several exhibitors displayed a variety of biometric solutions that they claim are functional beyond the laboratory.

In large part because of the recent terrorist attacks in the United States, biometry has enjoyed levels of interest never before seen.

And in Europe German Interior Minister Otto Schily's plans to include fingerprints on national identity cards brought additional attention to the subject in Europe. At the CeBIT fair, visitors jostled to watch demonstrations of fingerprint or iris scanning.

At CeBIT, the Federal German Government Printer exhibited for the first time systems that can recognize people automatically based on their faces, for use at border checks and at airports. A camera measures 1,800 points on the face in a matter of a second, and compares these calculations with the photo on the passport.

No human border officer can check a face so exactly, one representative noted, particularly when hundreds of people are trying to move through at once, as happens in an airport.

Several airports have already expressed interest in the technology. In the short run, biometric checking will remain a mere complement to the critical gaze of the border agent since, for a large number of uses, they are simply not reliable enough, according to Bernd Schweda, a European information technology expert.

The lack of 100-per-cent reliability of biometric systems has kept large firms such as Deutsche Bank from widespread implementation of fingerprint scans at ATMs. A pilot program by the bank showed the process to have worked unreliably, a spokesman indicates. The bank prefers to wait now until the process has improved further.

The accuracy of fingerprint recognition is hindered, under current technology, by any swelling or wounds present on a person's hand.

False identifications can result. The chip card manufacturer Giesecke & Devrient hopes to reduce this risk by storing biometric characteristics from two fingers on its cards.

The first identification cards with fingerprints stored in this way will be delivered in the coming year to Macao, the firm reports. India is well ahead of many other countries in this use of the technology as well.

In India, roughly 2 million driver's licences are equipped with fingerprints. In most other countries, biometric identification processes have been used primarily within small private groups.

Some firms, for example, already use automated face recognition as access control for their employees. At the CeBIT fair, a number of manufacturers are showcasing computer keyboards that recognize their users based on fingerprints. This will mean, ultimately, an end to the tiresome process of remembering secret numbers and passwords.
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