Biometrics refer to the use of distinct biological characteristics to identify a person. The Fingerprint Bureau of the London Metropolitan Police in 1901 was the first organised attempt to use biometrics as a means of identification. Since then, technological advancements have made new means of biometric identification possible, such as the iris scanner, facial shape recognition and digital fingerprint scanners. Furthermore, biometrics are used by organisations such as border agencies, banks and corporations.
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Uses in Law Enforcement
Law enforcement agencies, from local police departments, to national agencies (e.g., the FBI) and international organisations (including Europol and Interpol) use biometrics for the identification of suspects. Evidence on crime scenes, such as fingerprints or closed-circuit camera footage, are compared against the organisation's database in search of a match. In addition, iris scans have been used in prisons around the United States since 1996 to avoid cases of inmates being accidentally released because they claimed to be different persons.
Biometrics are used to verify the identity of people entering and leaving a country. Biometric passports contain a microchip with all the biometric information of holders as well as a digital photograph. European Union biometric passports even include information about the holder's fingerprints. The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system also requires visitors to the U.S. or applicants for a visa to provide digital fingerprint scans and a photograph.
Transactions with Banks
Banks have introduced advanced biometric identification systems to cope with cases of fraud, especially in automated transactions in ATMs. The United National Bank in the U.S., the Nationwide Building Society in the United Kingdom as well as Standard Bank in South Africa have tried the use of iris scan technology in a number of ATMs. However, the use of biometric identification is not widespread as of 2011, and most banks still rely on the use of PINs.
World Disney World in Orlando, Fla., uses biometric identification technology to prevent ticket fraud or illegitimate resale as well as to avoid the time-consuming process of photo ID check. In addition, electronic devices such as computers and cell phones use biometric data to allow access only to registered users as a means to tackle identify fraud. For example, Lenovo has installed the Veriface software in the company's laptops featuring a webcam. The software examines facial characteristics during the login process and prevents access to non-recognisable users.
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- Physorg.com: "Iris Scans May Prevent Mistaken Release of Inmates"; Melanie S. Welte; Feb 2010
- EUobserver: "EU to Launch Biometric Passports by Summer"; Elitsa Vutseva; Jan 2009
- News21: "Walt Disney World: The Government's Tomorrowland?"; Karen Harmel; Sep 2006