Biometric data is a simple enough concept – it is the information contained in or produced by our physical bodies. Our bodies are completely unique in several important ways, and this uniqueness is the key to the integrity of biometric identification processes.
Biometric identification is a rising technological force. The rise of biometrics has not been without controversy – it is an incredibly powerful tool and has a great deal of potential to be misused. Regardless, the rise of biometrics may be unstoppable. Here is a quick guide to the kinds of biometric data used in security.
DNA is one of the most important forms of biometric information used for identification purposes. You are (hopefully) very unlikely to have to provide a DNA sample to get into your online accounts or enter work, but DNA biometric identification already has significant applications in forensics and scientific research.
DNA testing was first used in a criminal investigation in 1986, where it was used to identify the perpetrator of a series of horrific crimes in Leicestershire, England. Since then, it has been a key tool in the biometric identification of criminal suspects in cases around the world.
Voice identification is used in police applications and private accounts. A microphone records a small quantity of speech, which is then checked against a database. Some vocalization styles can be remarkably similar, so voice identification is not typically used to find an absolute identification. It is more commonly used to eliminate definite mismatches.
Every person has a unique set of fingerprints, which makes fingerprint patterns ideal for use in biometrics and security. Having long been used in policing and high-security infrastructure, fingerprint biometric identification is now being adopted by technology manufacturers and companies that seek to facilitate multi-factor authentication for security purposes. Fingerprint testing may see a decline in use due to the ongoing COVID pandemic – being supplemented by biometric identification that can be achieved without direct physical contact.
Faces are unique. Facial composition is an identifying feature that many companies have developed algorithms to recognize. If you have traveled through a modern airport recently, you may have been subjected to a facial scan as you passed through passport control. Although there are many legitimate uses of facial recognition technology, there have been criticisms of its use to persecute unethical political goals. In particular, the PRC government have been utilizing facial composition recognition to target the Uyghur ethnic minority. Serious questions need to be asked about how facial recognition algorithms and biometric identification as a whole can be used for racist, colonial, and other nefarious means.
Each person’s retina contains a unique arrangement of tiny veins. You might have seen these veins if you have ever been in to the opticians for a neuropathy scan. Retinal scanning is a highly effective biometric identification method that uses the unique pattern of veins at the back of the eye to positively ID human beings. Modern mobile phones are often equipped for retinal scan identification.