Are You Who You Say You Are?

In a world inhabited by almost 7 billion people, governments and businesses have a vested interest in making sure the identity of individual citizens, consumers and employees can be confirmed quickly and with certainty. Signatures, photos and fingerprints are currently the cheapest form of biometric data to use in this way. Iris scans, voice print analysis and DNA screening are more costly in terms of technology but are still used when the price is worth it. However, there’s also growing interest in using other physiological and behavioral markers to determine who’s who. Researchers are finding that human beings are all unique in many additional ways. We each have our very own, one of a kind:

  • Outer ear contour
  • Nose shape
  • Pattern of veins on the back of the hand
  • Butt print (yes, you read that correctly)
  • Way of walking
  • Rhythm when typing

Although it is the source of much controversy, the use of biometrics isn’t new. In fact, physical characteristics and other identifying data was used in ancient Egypt to distribute food to workers during the construction of the pyramid of Khufu. Fingerprints were demonstrated as unique to each person in 1893 and quickly became a useful tool for law enforcement. Today, biometrics data is used for both fraud detection and fraud deterrence. The newest purpose for collecting this data is the identification and tracking of potential terrorists.

If you’re wondering how accurate these systems are – and how easily some can be defeated, take a few minutes to read this evaluation from San Diego University. It’s a real eye opener about how far we’ve got to go before this technology reaches maturity. It’s evident that, while useful, biometric identification is far from 100% fool proof.

Odds & Ends