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What are Biometrics?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 16, 2024
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Biometrics are used to identify people based on their biological traits. This growing technological field has deep implications because proving identity is becoming an integral part of our daily lives. To uncover the prevalence that biometrics could attain, let us consider an ordinary day of Thomas.

Thomas wakes up in the morning, and checks his email on his computer. His service provider requires that Thomas confirm that it is he that is checking his account; instead of entering a username and password, he presses his thumb against a biometric scanner on his keyboard. The system confirms that it is, in fact, Thomas and grants him access to his messages. On his way to work, he enters his car but instead of using a key to identify him as the owner of the vehicle, another biometric scanner checks his fingerprint to confirm that he has the permission to enter.

A biometric hand-recognition device confirms that it is Thomas and allows him entrance to the building at work. Thomas' work computer uses a voice-recognition system that requires him to say a short phrase; it recognizes him and confirms that he has permission to access all programs and files on the computer network.

For lunch, Thomas takes a short trolley ride with some colleagues to a nearby restaurant. Upon entering the trolley, a biometric face-recognition camera recognizes him and automatically bills his bank account. At the restaurant, he pays by 'credit card' but instead of using an actual card, he presses his thumb against a portable biometric scanner. No signature is required and he is authenticated almost immediately. On his way home from work, he stops at the library to pick up a book, and he checks it out with a biometric retina scan instead of a library card.

It is evident that our identity is frequently required; For the time being we use a wide assortment of methods to verify our identity: usernames, passwords, signatures, keys, cards etc. Biometrics allow us to authenticate ourselves with things that we carry with us wherever we may go, such as our hands, eyes, voices, faces, fingerprints etc. In addition to the convenience, biometrics can be much more effective; a key or card, for example, can fall into someone else's hands. The promise of ease and increased security are perhaps biometric's most appealing features.

The downside of all of the benefits of biometrics is personal privacy. If we are going to be identified at various points during the day, will large companies, the government or other institutions track our behaviors and use this data in unanticipated or invasive ways? These questions must be addressed before biometrics have the chance of pervading our daily lives.

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Discussion Comments
By BambooForest — On Jan 14, 2011

I like the idea of a biometrics security device for some things, like home security, but it seems like it could get very tedious if they become used for everything. You can give a close friend your password and user name if you have to, but you can't give someone else your voice or your thumbprint. And what about the use of tape recorders?

By afterall — On Jan 13, 2011

@stolaf23, I guess that's the other question. Are computers still considered inanimate if we operate them using things like biometric technology? Or do they actually cross the line at that point into being artificial intelligence?

By stolaf23 — On Jan 12, 2011

I personally find biometric security a little creepy. The idea that my computer can read my fingerprints or identify my voice seems like a little more power than I want to give to an inanimate object.

By anon113799 — On Sep 26, 2010

nice how this principle works in computers.

i mean what is meant by biometric in computers and networks?

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