Biometrics Go Big

Technology floods the marketplace like never before

In recent years, biometric security systems have moved beyond the more tradition applications -- such as access control at businesses, government facilities and ports -- and into some surprising realms.

Advances in facial recognition, fingerprint verification and other corners of the biometric access management field have caused prices to come down and new installations to spread like wildfire. Once viewed as too new or cutting- edge by many people, the technology is finally hitting the mainstream.

A Biometric for Everyone
Today, biometric-based access control is making its way into a surprising range of applications. And as the technology becomes increasingly accessible and affordable, even smaller businesses are taking advantage of its amazing capabilities.

One interesting application of biometric technology is called the Biometric Bouncer. The facial recognition system is being used by upscale nightclubs -- such as Moon, in Hamilton, Bermuda -- to ensure guest safety and security.

When new patrons visit Moon, a bouncer enters their information into the Biometric Bouncer system, scans their ID cards and takes a photo of each of them. On their next visit, the camera scans their facial features, matches them to the file photo and clears them for entry.

“If other places adopted this system, a database could be set up to highlight people who cause trouble,” said David Madeiros, Moon’s manager, in a press release. “For example, if a person gets banned from a club down the street, they could enter that into the system and if they were to show up at Moon, we would be able to see that they were banned and what they did.”

Good Deeds, Faster
Biometrics also are having a big impact in the healthcare industry, where security and identity verification are always top-of-mind.

In one interesting application, the Oklahoma Blood Institute, a non-profit regional blood center, is incorporating BIO-key International’s fingerprint identification solution to provide blood donors a fast and convenient method to establish their identity. The solution automates the donor check-in process and protects their privacy by eliminating the need for them to produce sensitive identification forms, such as driver’s licenses or social security numbers.

Once a donor is entered into the system, he or she simply touches a finger to the scanner. The software searches the OBI database to provide positive ID, reducing the check-in time and lowering the chance of human error.

“We recognize the importance of providing convenience for our donors and protecting their identity,” said Dr. John Armitage, Oklahoma Blood Institute president and CEO, in a press release. “Using the BIO-key ID solution, we are able to protect our donor’s privacy while reducing the chance of duplicate donor IDs and aliases in our system. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our donors’ experiences and protect the integrity of the blood supply for Oklahomans.”

Jim Sullivan, the sales director at BIO-key International, said the system’s fingerprint reader independence differentiates it from other biometric readers.

“This enables enrollment, identification and verification to be performed by fingerprint scanners produced by any of the major fingerprint reader manufacturers,” he said. “Popular laptops, tablet PCs, workstation keyboards and even cell phones that have integrated fingerprint readers can be used to establish the donor’s ID.”

Beyond Access Control
Obviously, today’s biometric technology isn’t just for access control applications. Something as simple as library book loans now can be managed using fingerprint recognition systems, as prices continue to drop and functionality improves.

In June, the U.K. Telegraph reported that students in Manchester, England, would have the option to scan their thumbprints in order to check out a library book. School officials said the voluntary system is heavily encrypted, so that no images of fingerprints are stored. Instead, their thumbprints are digitally transformed into electronic codes, which are later compared against each child’s thumbprint scan. Eventually, the program will include children ages 4 to 11.

Not surprisingly, privacy advocates and some students’ parents immediately cried foul.

“For such a trivial issue as taking out of library books, the taking of fingerprints is way over the top and wrong,” one critic said. “It conditions children to hand over sensitive personal information.”

In addition to privacy concerns, some biometric applications raise unprecedented security issues. For example, this year Hitachi’s “finger vein” technology was installed on a bank ATM in Poland. Although the scanners have been used for years in Japan, this was their first appearance in Europe.

The technology does away with the need for ATM cards and helps prevent scams like skimming. But how will the criminal element adapt to this new development?

It’s disturbing to imagine the grisly ways in which user’s biometric identifiers could be hijacked.

Here’s hoping that organizations using these interesting new applications will be mindful of the possibilities and employ multi-factor authentication wherever possible.

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