Biometrics History — Looking at Biometric Technologies from Past to Present

The ancient Egyptians and the Chinese played a large role in biometrics’ history. Although biometric technology seems to belong in the twenty-first century, the history of biometrics goes back thousands of years. Today, the focus is on using biometric face recognition and identifying characteristics to stop terrorism and improve security measures. Once an individual is matched against a template, or sample, in the database, a security alert goes out to the authorities. A person’s space between the eyes, ears and nose provides most of the identifying data.

The ACLU and other civil liberties groups are against the widespread use of these biometric technologies, although they acknowledge the necessity of their presence in airports and after the London bombings. Biometric technologies also need to achieve greater standardization and technological innovations to be recognized as a trustworthy identity authentication solution.

A timeline of biometric technology

o European explorer Joao de Barros recorded the first known example of fingerprinting, which is a form of biometrics, in China during the 14th century. Chinese merchants used ink to take children’s fingerprints for identification purposes.

o In 1890, Alphonse Bertillon, a Parisian police desk studied body mechanics and measurements to help identify criminals. The police used his method, the Bertillonage method, until it falsely identified some subjects. The Bertillonage method was quickly abandoned in favor of fingerprinting, brought back into use by Richard Edward Henry of Scotland Yard.

o Karl Pearson, an applied mathematician studied biometric research early in the 20th century at University College of London. He made important discoveries in the field of biometrics through studying statistical history and correlation, which he applied to animal evolution. His historical work included the method of moments, the Pearson system of curves, correlation and the chi-squared test.

o In the 1960s and ’70s, signature biometric authentication procedures were developed, but the biometric field remained fixed until the military and security agencies researched and developed biometric technology beyond fingerprinting.

o 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida — each facial image of the 100,000 fans passing through the stadium was recorded via video security cameras and checked electronically against mug shots from the Tampa police. No felons were identified and the video surveillance led many civil liberties advocates to denounce biometric identifying technologies.

o Post 9/11 — after the attacks, authorities installed biometric technologies in airports to ID suspected terrorists, but some airports, like Palm Beach International, never reached full installation status due to the costs of the surveillance system.

o July 7th, 2005 London, England — British law enforcement is using biometric face recognition technologies and 360-degree “fish-eye” video cameras to ID terrorists after four bombings on subways and on a double-decker bus. In fact, London has over 200,000 security cameras and surveillance cameras that have been in use since the 1960s.

Today and looking forward

Biometrics is a growing and controversial field in which civil liberties groups express concern over privacy and identity issues. Today, biometric laws and regulations are in process and biometric industry standards are being tested. Face recognition biometrics has not reached the prevalent level of fingerprinting, but with constant technological pushes and with the threat of terrorism, researchers and biometric developers will hone this security technology for the twenty-first century.

Copyright © 2005 Evaluseek Publishing.

Satria Permadi

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