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Trading PINs for body parts

  EYE TEST

Like fingerprints, no two irises are alike. Four biometric eye scans appear above. Can you tell which two are taken from the same eye?

A & E
B & C
C & E
A & D

 

SAN JOSE, California (CNN) -- At the National Biometric Test Center, it takes a face to open a door.

After Dr. Jim Wayman punches in his PIN, a scanner compares his face to previously stored impressions of his features. If they match, the door unlocks and he is allowed to enter.

Biometrics began as a way to guarantee high-level access to secret government installations, but as costs decrease, the applications are spreading. This government facility puts mainstream biometric equipment to the test, including an iris scanner.

"Instead of using the information on the ridges of fingers, we're using the information in the bands and the styrations of the iris region of the eye," said Wayman, who heads the center.

The word "iris" comes from a Greek term for rainbow. There's so much variation in the patterns around the pupil that the iris is different from person to person. Like fingerprints, no two irises are alike.

An iris scanner records and stores information on a user's iris bands during enrollment in the system. The device later identifies a user by comparing their iris with the original scan.

But the eyes don't exclusively have it. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization, for example, uses a hand geometry system to offer passport holders an alternative to waiting in long lines. The unit takes more than 90 measurements of a traveler's palm and fingers, and the dimensions are stored on both an INS pass and immigration computers. After that, the agency can use hand geometry and fingerprinting to quickly identify the traveler.

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Which would you choose to be your password?

A. fingerprint
B. pupil / iris
C. voice
D. facial structure
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 VIDEO
CNN's Sharon Collins takes closer look at biometrics

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Biometrics is quickly becoming the weapon of choice against welfare fraud in eight states, including California. Since it began using fingerprint scans five years ago, New York's welfare program has saved close to $300 million. It's cut down on recipients who were "double-dipping," or collecting welfare checks from multiple locations.

In addition, credit card companies like MasterCard plan to curb credit and debit card fraud, which amounts to $3 billion per year, by having users scan their fingerprints before making purchases.

Biometric technology is even available for use at home in the form of inexpensive computer login products, according to Paul Collier of biometrics leader Identix. Fingerprinting and facial recognition tools average about $100.

Not everyone thinks biometrics is a great idea. In the state of Georgia, there have been protests over the requirement to have fingerprint scanned to get a driver's license.

"I fear that we're going to live in what amounts to a surveillance society," said Barry Steinhardt, an expert on technology privacy issues for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's not going to be the evil Big Brother of 1984, but I fear that we are rapidly moving toward a society where all of our movements, all of our transactions, all of our business is known to somebody out there. And a profile of us will be easy to assemble."

Steinhardt believes biometrics is advancing faster than the legal issues it raises can be addressed.

"We need to be careful about the power of this technology, especially the power of DNA. It's iris scans or fingerprints today, but it'll be DNA tomorrow," he said.

For some, the idea of this technology in widespread use suggests grim scenarios. For example, what's to prevent a criminal from cutting off someone's finger, then using it to access their ATM account?

"That makes good stuff for spy thrillers, doesn't it?" Wayman said.

But a number of systems have been fielded that test the "liveness" of the fingerprint before accepting it, Wayman said, and the technology could be incorporated into existing systems.

In the meantime, the use of biometric technology is spreading.

"I think you'll begin to see this on your cell phones," Identix's Collier said. "You'll begin to see this on cable boxes for parental controls. You'll begin to see this in your alarm system in your home, your automobile -- we're already beginning to see that in some systems. It boggles the mind."



RELATED STORIES:
Iris scans take off at airports
July 19, 2000
New airport scanners have super sight
April 27, 2000
Are days of the password numbered?
June 29, 2000
OPINION: Biometrics are not an invasion of privacy
May 26, 2000
The Biometric Elections
April 28, 2000

RELATED SITES:
National Biometric Test Center
Identix
ACLU


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