dana hawkins on Wed, 13 Feb 2002 00:16:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] article on biometrics in this week's magazine

hope you're doing well. in this week's magazine, i take a close, hard look 
at the biometrics industry.
learn about gummy dummies, replay, and bioprivacy, by reading...

"Body of Evidence: Biometrics turns your hand, face, or eye into your badge 
of identity":
(you'll find the actual text below.)

and here's a sidebar on a new type of biometric: "This little light of mine":
(you'll find the actual text below.)

i neglected to send out an email when these stories first appeared...
"Tech v. Terrorists: Every fix has its flaws":

"Guarding liberties as well as lives":

and, finally, here's the link to my webpage, with dozens of stories in the 
areas of workplace, financial, internet, and medical privacy: 

as always, please let me know if you'd like your name removed from this 
list. (i detest getting email messages that i don't want--so no hard feelings!)


Science & Technology 2/18/02

                   Body of Evidence
                   Biometrics turns your face, hand, or eye
                   into your badge of identity

                   BY DANA HAWKINS

                   'Please-move-forward . . . a- lit-tle," a robotic yet 
oddly sultry
                   female voice commands. A camera whirs to focus on the
                   eyeball of a visitor to Thales Fund Management, on the 45th
                   floor of an ebony tower in Lower Manhattan. "We-are- sorry.
                   You-are-NOT-identified," says the disembodied voice. "We
                   like the Star Trek feel," grins Laurel Galgano, who manages
                   the automated security system. "And it impresses the

                   They're not the only ones taken with biometrics. Iris
                   scanners are among the sexiest of these technologies,
                   which convert distinctive biological characteristics,
                   such as the patterns of the iris or fingertip or the shape
                   of a hand or face, into a badge of identity. Even before
                   the September 11 terrorist attacks, the industry was
                   growing sharply as scanners and software became
                   cheaper and more accurate. The International Biometric
                   Industry Association estimates that sales reached
                   $170 million in 2001, a 70 percent jump over the previous
                   year. Now, the IBIA predicts that sales will rise to $1 
billion by
                   2004, propelled in part by new security worries at airports
                   and other critical facilities.

                   Thousands of systems are being tested or are already up
                   and running. Employees at some businesses punch in and
                   out by placing their hand on a reader, and digital 
                   devices verify thousands of schoolchildren's enrollment in
                   lunch programs. At a handful of airports, face scanners are
                   scrutinizing passengers, and the New York State lottery uses
                   iris scanners for employee access to a secured room
                   containing its data system.

                   Nothing's perfect. Yet biometrics experts and even some
                   vendors worry about promising too much, too soon. In theory,
                   when your fingerprint or face structure becomes your 
                   card, you no longer have to worry that it will be lost or
                   stolen–nor does an employer, a government agency, or
                   anyone else with a stake in knowing who you are. But
                   biometrics systems, like traditional ID cards, can be 
                   and some, like hand and face scans, are less accurate in
                   practice than in theory. "The people who say biometrics
                   provides foolproof, fail-safe, positive identification 
are just
                   wrong," says Jim Wayman, director of biometric research at
                   San Jose State University. What's more, face scanning can
                   be done without people's permission, raising privacy
                   concerns and prompting calls for laws that would regulate
                   how biometric data could be collected and used.

                   Some biometric systems have been a hit, providing a real
                   boost in security and convenience. At a Gristedes grocery
                   store in Manhattan, a hand reader has replaced the time
                   clock. "You can't cheat the boss, and he can't accuse you of
                   buddy punching," says a store clerk. It takes just 
minutes for
                   New York State to enroll an applicant for public 
assistance in
                   a digital fingerprint system, which has boosted arrests for
                   attempted fraud. To allay privacy concerns, legislation
                   prohibits the state from sharing the data with the FBI 
unless it
                   is subpoenaed. And travelers laud INSPASS. The program
                   allows over 65,000 passengers who regularly fly abroad to
                   breeze by immigration lines at nearly a dozen airports by
                   passing through a hand-scan reader, linked to a database of
                   known travelers. There's an appealing backup system, too.
                   When a hand reader fails, the passenger gets to cut to the
                   front of the customs line.

                   But the technology has glitches. Digital fingerprint readers
                   can draw a blank on some people, such as hairdressers who
                   work with harsh chemicals, and the elderly, whose prints may
                   be worn. Recent tests by the independent research and
                   consulting firm International Biometric Group showed that
                   some systems are unable to collect a finger scan from up to
                   12 percent of users. And the IBG found that the performance
                   of face-scanning systems can be dismal. Six weeks after
                   test subjects had "enrolled" with an initial face scan, some
                   systems failed to recognize them nearly one third of the
                   time–and that was under ideal conditions. The companies
                   say they've since upgraded their software.

                   Yet an increasing number of airports, including Boston's
                   Logan, Fresno, St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Palm Beach, and
                   Dallas-Fort Worth, are testing or deploying the face-scan
                   technology–in some cases at security checkpoints but also
                   for covert crowd scanning. The systems compare passing
                   faces against a database of images from FBI lists of
                   suspected terrorists and wanted felons. Independent privacy
                   and security expert Richard M. Smith, who has studied these
                   systems, says that because they are so easily fooled by
                   changes in lighting, viewing angle, or sunglasses, they 
                   merely as a deterrent. "The camera in the ceiling is 
like the
                   man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. It's all for 
                   says Smith. "Crowd scanning can be problematic," says
                   Tom Colatosti, CEO of Viisage Technology, a face-scan
                   company. "If you're talking about an airport, you need a
                   chokepoint" for scanning people one by one.

                   Gummy dummies. Many systems can be deliberately
                   fooled. A new study from Yokohama National University in
                   Japan shows that phony fingers concocted from gelatin,
                   called "gummy dummies," easily trick fingerprint systems.
                   Manufacturers of some systems claim to guard against such
                   tactics by recording pupil dilation, blood flow in 
fingers, and
                   other evidence that the biometric sample is "live." And
                   although some makers assert that biometrics solves the
                   problem of identity theft–no one can steal your iris or 
                   after all–many experts disagree. A hacker who broke into a
                   poorly designed system might be able to steal other people's
                   digital biometric templates and use them to access secure
                   networks. This trick, called "replay," could take 
identity theft
                   to a whole new level. "Your fingerprint is uniquely yours,
                   forever. If it's compromised, you can't get a new one," says
                   Jackie Fenn, a technology analyst at the Gartner Group.

                   Privacy concerns–although they seem less pressing to many
                   these days–may also slow public acceptance of the
                   technology. Yet in some cases, biometrics can actually
                   enhance privacy. A finger-scan system for controlling access
                   to medical records, for example, would also collect an audit
                   trail of people who viewed the data. But face scanning, with
                   its potential for identifying people without their 
                   has alarmed privacy advocates.

                   Last month, for example, Visionics Corp.'s face-scanning
                   system was redeployed as an anticrime measure in a
                   Tampa, Fla., entertainment district. Detective Bill Todd 
                   the system had been taken down two months into its
                   12-month trial because of a bug in the operating system, but
                   it has been upgraded and is now back in use. The
                   36-camera system is controlled by an officer at the station,
                   who can pan, tilt, and zoom the cameras to scan faces in the
                   crowd so that the software can compare them with faces in a

                   While Todd says the database contains only photographs of
                   wanted felons, runaways, and sexual predators, police
                   department policy allows anyone who has a criminal record
                   or might provide "valuable intelligence," such as gang
                   members, to be included. So far, according to a report 
by the
                   American Civil Liberties Union, the technology has produced
                   many false matches. And Todd confirms that it hasn't
                   identified any criminals. "We have our limitations," says
                   Frances Zelazny, spokesperson for Visionics. "It's an
                   enhancement to law enforcement, not a replacement."

                   At times, the privacy problem is more perception than 
                   The Lower Merion school district near Philadelphia had
                   installed finger-scan devices for school lunch lines. 
                   would place their finger on a pad to verify their 
identity, and
                   money would be deducted from their account. The optional
                   program was instituted to make lines move faster, and to
                   spare embarrassment to students entitled to free or
                   discounted meals. But even though the system did not
                   capture a full fingerprint image, but rather a stripped-down
                   digital version, some parents felt that it came 
                   close to traditional fingerprinting. After a spate of 
bad press,
                   the program was killed last year. Forty other school 
                   still use the system.

                   Bioprivacy. Such privacy dust-ups are causing some
                   biometrics experts and vendors to call for laws to 
govern the
                   fledgling industry. Samir Nanavati, a partner at IBG, 
says his
                   company stresses "bioprivacy" rules: Tell people what data
                   you're collecting and why; minimize the amount gathered;
                   use the data only for the purpose originally stated; and 
                   users a chance to correct their records.

                   Nanavati also worries that the technology is not always used
                   to best advantage. On a recent, informal tour of biometric
                   installations in Manhattan, where the dapper consultant 
                   it was easy to see what he meant. At a New York University
                   dorm, the hand-scan access system seemed to offer little
                   security benefit. Fewer than half the students used it. The
                   others gained entry the old-fashioned way, slightly 
faster and
                   a lot less secure–by casually flashing an ID card to the
                   friendly security guard. And at New York-Presbyterian
                   Hospital, where long queues sometimes form at hand-scan
                   readers, frustrated employees smashed machines two
                   weeks in a row last month. Yet Joe Salerno of New
                   York-Presbyterian says every building has a hand reader. He
                   speculates that employees may be upset about the rigorous

                   The real trick, says Nanavati, is to choose the right 
                   system and design it with both security and convenience in
                   mind. And sometimes that means no system. One client,
                   who desired the cachet of owning the most secure, high-tech
                   residence on Manhattan, hired IBG to set up an iris-reader
                   system for tenants of his 24-hour doorman building. "I told
                   him it was already very secure," Nanavati laughs. "Biometric
                   access would've only cost money and annoyed people."

                   Sometimes, Star Trek just isn't the answer.

Science & Technology 2/18/02

                   NEW MEASURES

                   This little light of mine

                   BY DANA HAWKINS

                   What makes you unique? Is it the ridges beneath your
                   fingernails, the creaking of your bones, the shape of your
                   ears, your very own odor? The biometric frontier, where
                   researchers are looking for new and better markers, is not
                   exactly the stuff of poetry.

                   Except, perhaps, for a little silver device called a 
light print
                   sensor. Among the most promising of the new approaches, it
                   works by measuring the play of many-colored light through
                   your skin. Skin layer thicknesses, capillaries, and other
                   structures all affect the light, creating a distinctive 
pattern of
                   changes. The system works on any skin surface and is
                   unaffected by cuts, burns, and dirt. Only about 500 people
                   have been tested, but so far each light print has been 
                   "even identical twins," says Rob Rowe, cofounder of
                   Lumidigm, the Albuquerque, N.M., company developing the

                   Smart gun. By the end of the year, a Lumidigm sensor could
                   actually be in use. Combined with a hand reader, it would
                   control access to the University of New Mexico's new
                   hazardous-biomaterials lab. The sensor has also caught the
                   eye of engineers at Smith & Wesson, which is working with
                   Lumidigm to build a "smart gun." A light print sensor 
built into
                   the grip would prevent the gun from being fired except by
                   authorized users. One challenge now, the gunmaker says, is
                   to get the sensor to authorize a user in under a second–it
                   currently takes two. If light prints aren't a flash in 
the pan,
                   embedded sensors could someday say "hands off" to all but
                   the rightful owner of cellphones, laptops, PDAs, and even


Dana Hawkins, Senior Editor
U.S. News & World Report
1050 Thomas Jefferson St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20007
(202) 955-2338, dhawkins@usnews.com

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