The identity of a person is defined by his name, face, signature and fingerprint. Official documents like passport, license, ID cards, etc. are usually issued by either government or similar authorities in order to recognize a person. With increased issues of security breaches and frauds, the need of a better identification system has become critical. Biometrics is a special branch that deals with techniques for automated personal identification based on physiological or behavioural traits of an individual. This helps to uniquely recognize humans using their intrinsic characteristics like fingerprint, iris, retinal, facial features, handwriting, hand geometry, voice, signature, etc. This system offers certain advantages over traditional methods of identification. One is that in a biometric system, the person needs to be physically present at the identification point and most importantly, there is no need to memorize pin numbers, passwords or carry any official documents, which are susceptible to theft, forgery or can be lost.
Formation of a fool proof biometric system demands some basic requirements. A reference or biometric template must be first formed by collecting biometric data of the users. This data is safely stored in a central database or in the form of a smart card issued to the user. When an individual requires to be identified, this reference is used to compare or match the input by the user on the spot. There are two modes of operation - identification and verification, the former being more complicated. In identification, the system recognizes the person from N number of people in the database. Verification or authentication involves checking whether the individual is who he or she claims to be. The physiological or behavioural traits must satisfy certain criteria, to be considered as the basis of a biometric scheme. Every individual should possess the characteristic and it should be distinguishable between two people. The character must remain unchanged over the entire lifetime and it should be easy to collect the data and quantify it.
Another important thing is that the designed system should be universally accepted by users, must be accurate, fast and reliable, and defensive against any manipulation or intentional fraudulent activity to surpass the biometric system. It should encompass millions of users, allow non-invasive mode of sample collection and should adjust to environmental variations. In a biometric system, there is a sensor that acquires data from the user. The next step is pre-processing in which unnecessary forms of the input is removed, enhancing it and performing a kind of normalization, etc. Then, the required feature is extracted and stored in a specific form by a computer. There is specific software that uses algorithms to perform the comparison or identification procedure. Features that are not used in this algorithm are discarded in the template, thereby reducing the storage file size.
The applications of biometrics are wide and numerous. Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) has been used extensively for identification of criminals in forensics. The advancement of biometric sensors has led to authentication systems in both government and civilian purposes. Physical access to computers, mobile phones, homes, restricted areas and any private systems can be controlled using an efficient biometric system that allows access only to verified individuals. Customer verification during bank transactions via phone or internet (e-commerce or e-banking) can be done using this automated technology. Biometrics is even used in automobiles, replacing keys with biometric traits. The International Civil Aviation Organization has sanctioned the use of passports with embedded chips with the person's facial image, fingerprint, etc. (e-passport), aiming to control the increasing cases of security threats and terrorism.
As always, every technology comes with its disadvantages and issues. Biometrics seems to compromise privacy and discrimination because your presence, location and activity become easily traceable. Also, there are possibilities that the data collected from the user during enrolment being used for purposes that the individual does not consent to. Whereas passwords and tokens can be reissued, the replacement of biometric data once stored is not naturally available. Cancellable biometrics has been developed to resolve this problem. International trading of biometric data is carried out by many countries and they declare to have no choice about this matter.
Biometrics cannot promise complete safety and protection from illegal activities or fraud because as long as there is no strict and unbiased government law enforcement and sincere effort of individuals, crime and injustice continues to flourish. Still, biometrics surely ensures a better and easy personal identification system.
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