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The Importance of Biometrics in the Changing World of I D Access Cards

Sep 8, 2008
ID Cards, or identification cards, are common place these days - you want to use a gym, go to a library, have a hotel room or even get into your place of work, and the chances are that you will have an access card. Probably one card per application!

In the early days, identification cards were simple hand written affairs which were manually entered by a receptionist to allow you access. Quickly systems such as magnetic strips and bar codes replaced manual methods, so that you could quickly swipe your own card to gain entry. Recent developments have meant that non-contact RFID technology can be used - your status can be determined from a distance. In fact, RFID technology is now even used in the passports of the United States of America - a grand entry ID card for a huge country!

So, it is clear that ID cards are an essential part of everyday life, and that we would not be able to have the freedom that we currently do without the simplicity of access cards.

Where is it all leading? In science fiction stories, it often seems that some kind of biometric data is necessary to enter top secret locations. The bad-guys will always clone a fingerprint or a retina so that they can pretend to be someone who they are not. The movie makers show us some kind of laser device which scans your eyes, a black pad with a glowing green light which scans your palm and even a voice activated security system. Is this all science fiction?

Biometric data is most definitely being used for identification in modern society. In 1880 fingerprints were first discussed with the Metropolitan Police as a way to determine the identity of law breakers, so this is nothing new. At Disney World, biometric information is taken from the visitors to make sure that they do not swap entry tickets throughout their visit. Some biometric information includes the look of the face, fingerprints, hand shape, the iris, and it can even include DNA, your fingerprint at a biological level.

One of the problems with the use of biometric information as a form of ID or access is the environmental effect on the data received. For example, poor lighting can greatly effect the image received from a facial recognition system. Fingerprints can be distorted by pressure or rotation. Even the iris is not a completely straightforward indicator of identity.

But still, the use and collection of biometric data is growing, with the United States, Japan and Australia at the forefront of collection. In Japan some automatic teller machines (ATMs) now use palm vein detection as part of a wider authentication scheme, and it has been very successful at reducing theft.

Of course, with any technology which is able to identify an individual, there is a security concern. Many activists claim that the use of biometric information is an infringement of rights, and others claim that it opens up a whole new arena for theft of identity, one which it will be difficult to protect against if the criminals can come up with a convincing way to "clone" an identity. None the less, the use of biometric and physical information continues to gain acceptance and will over time become the standard way to get entry.

Widespread use of biometric data as a form of day-to-day identification and for access is still to happen. Until that time, we will all be stuck with carrying around a pocket full of plastic to allow us to shop, get into work and even to pay for our transportation.

Who is to say - before long we will be able to simply walk into a shop, select the items that we want and then walk out with them, legally! RFID technology, combined with biometric information could give us a completely new shopping experience!
About the Author
F.Bradfield is an author and web designer who represents 'The Cardnetwork' (http://www.thecardnetwork.co.uk), the premier producer of ID Cards, ID card printers and supplies in the United Kingdom.
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