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CNN International




Paul Collier of Identix on biometrics

August 17, 2000
Posted at: 6:45 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Biometrics, once the subject of science fiction, is now being implemented in reality. U.S. Airways recently announced that they would be using iris scans in their Charlotte/ Douglas Airport terminals to identify customers and speed the issuance of boarding passes. What are the implications of identification by body parts? Paul Collier, an Identix division general manager and biometrics expert, answers questions on the uses and abuses of this new technology.

Chat Moderator: Welcome Paul Collier to the chat room.

Paul Collier: Hello.

Chat Moderator: What are biometrics?

Paul Collier: Biometrics is a quantitative measurement of unique physical characteristics or behavior.

Question from Dreamboat: How do you see biometrics as becoming ubiquitous, like the phone and computer?

Paul Collier: Primarily, as a replacement for all of the personal identity numbers (PIN) and passwords that we have to remember.

Question from Bill92: Paul, will biometrics replace Social Security Numbers (SSN) for individual identity check?

Paul Collier: Very doubtful. Biometrics offers increased protection against identity theft, but they should not replace government references for entitlement purposes.

Question from Mistral: Paul, which parts of the body are suitable for these purposes?

Paul Collier: Many -- for example, fingerprints, iris, face, voice, hand geometry, etc. -- no one biometric fits all applications.

Question from Dreamboat: Can you give an example of biometrics as an identity protection?

Paul Collier: Biometrics offers the "something-you-are factor" to positive user authentication, especially in online transactions. You cannot give someone your biometric, as you could, say, your PIN number or password.

Question from Mirammon: The real problem, as perceived by many, I think, seems to be associated with the fact that although you can leave your driver's license at home or your social security card, you cannot do the same for your retina or your thumb print. While identity protection is indeed useful, there are many times when I would rather not be identified.

Paul Collier: Biometrics, typically, must be presented and cannot be gathered surreptitiously, with very few exceptions.

Question from Winston Smith: Isn't it a choice between protecting your identity and protecting your privacy? I don't see how you can have both.

Paul Collier: Protecting your identity is a major part of protecting your privacy. In example, identity theft can cost you financially and cost your privacy by providing secure access to your personal information and transactions.

Question from Bc: Paul, what protection do we have that a criminal will not use force to present our biometric data, and therefore obtain access to any and all information about us?

Paul Collier: In a typical transaction, i.e., gaining $200 from an ATM or paying your electric bill, the criminal will most likely decide there are much easier ways to do that. In gaining $200 from an ATM now, the criminal waits until after you have the $200 and then robs you. Many biometrics offer secure transactions through the detection of persons under duress or false samples, etc.

Chat Moderator: Can you tell us about the eye scan technology that U.S. Airlines plans to test?

Paul Collier: Iris scan basically looks at the eye with a high-resolution camera. The iris is as unique as a fingerprint, and it merely verifies the identity of the user or purchaser.

Chat Moderator: Is it safe?

Paul Collier: Absolutely! It's totally non-invasive.

Chat Moderator: Is eye scanning better than using fingerprints?

Paul Collier: It's difficult to say that one biometric is better than the other. If they meet the requirements for accuracy and user acceptance, they all have varied applications.

Question from Mistral: Paul do you know if, somewhere, a large-scale use of biometrics for identification is made and/or tested?

Paul Collier: Currently, there are tens of millions of biometric templates collected, primarily in large-scale civil and government programs -- in example: national identification cards, voter registration, order crossing systems, entitlement fraud, driver's licenses, etc. In the United States alone, there are over 12 million driver's licenses with biometric data stored on the license.

Question from User1: Are there any biometrics devices available for home PCs?

Paul Collier: There are now several devices available for access or logon to a PC that sell for less than $100.

Question from Bill92: In regards to the Americans with Disabilities Act, what provisions will be made for people who are physically unable to be part of a particular biometric ID scheme?

Paul Collier: One advantage of using multiple biometrics is that they can accommodate virtually everyone, i.e., fingerprint and face.

Question from Rick: Paul, do you believe that someday the genome factor can be implemented into biometrics?

Paul Collier: It is certainly possible, but not feasible with today's technology.

Question from Makry: Paul, don't fingerprints change for children as they grow?

Paul Collier: Fingerprints remain stable throughout someone's lifetime.

Question from Jeffrey: Does anyone know of any day-to-day, practical uses for biometrics?

Paul Collier: There are many day-to-day, practical uses for biometrics, ranging from access to one's home or automobile or bank accounts, to the replacement of PIN numbers in common devices, such as cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDA), or home alarm systems.

Question from Jason: Paul, are there any biometrics that work on the exterior of buildings? I have yet to find one.

Paul Collier: That's primarily a question of configuration of hardware. Fingerprints, hand geometry and facial geometry have been successfully used in harsh environmental conditions.

Question from User1: Paul, do you think biometrics is on the verge of becoming ubiquitous?

Paul Collier: Absolutely! It has been a question of cost, the need for convenience and additional security, and the human ability to remember passwords and PINs have come together.

Question from Bc: Paul, do the National Security Agency (NSA) and other security agencies use biometrics?

Paul Collier: Yes, in fact, NSA has been one of the pioneers in the development of what is now current biometric commercial technology.

Question from Bill92: Paul, since biometrics are electronically encoded, would replaying a file fool the system?

Paul Collier: One advantage inherent in biometrics is the replay of the stored template will produce a "perfect score." In biometrics, there's no such thing as a "perfect score."

Question from User1: What do you think the "killer app" will be for biometrics? What will get people on the street to go out and buy a device? Or do you think it will have to be free for it to succeed?

Paul Collier: I'd say that's a toss up between Internet access and wireless communications, an example being PDAs and cell phones.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for our audience?

Paul Collier: I'm sorry we've run out of time. For further information on biometrics, please visit That's the International Biometrics Industry Association, or, which is the Biometric Consortium. There's a wealth of information available on those two sites.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.

Paul Collier: Goodbye.

Paul Collier joined the chat from Washington DC via telephone. provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place Thursday, August 17, 2000.

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