On Sept. 24, the National Research Council (NRC) released a report entitled “Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities.” In IBIA's view, the NRC release statement, report summary and subsequent negative press coverage create the inaccurate impression that biometrics is fundamentally flawed and not ready for general use.
To the contrary, experience over the past decade has shown that biometric technology significantly enhances the effectiveness of many identity-based systems and constitutes an important tool in protecting our borders, reducing entitlement fraud, enforcing our laws, securing networks and facilities and protecting personal information from unauthorized access.
The release headline “Automated Biometric Recognition Technologies Inherently Fallible,” has been seized on by the media and has generated the perception that biometrics are simply not ready for “prime time.” The gist of the argument is the inherently “probabilistic” nature of biometric matches, which the report's release and summary highlight as a key weakness of biometric systems.
The report is correct to say that the outcome of an automated match between two biometric records is based on similarity scores that represent “probabilistic” results. However, similar uncertainties exist in other automated identification mechanisms like PINs, passwords or tokens that can be lost, stolen, guessed, hacked or loaned to another person. Probabilistic results are nothing new in our world because there is no such thing as 100-percent certainty. For example, prescription medications carry a certain probability of health risks, but the overall benefit to society far outweighs these risks. IBIA believes that for many useful applications, biometric technology is appropriate, effective, accurate and reliable and is being widely deployed today.
Tens of millions of notebook computers shipped in the U.S. include biometric sensors as an embedded feature to protect the owner's sensitive files and personal information from unauthorized access. Similarly, biometrically-enabled smart phones and other mobile devices that provide biometric data protection are being introduced in the U.S. after achieving acceptance in international markets like Asia.
According to a recent release from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Secure Communities initiative, which uses biometric information and services to identify and remove criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails, has resulted in the arrest of more than 59,000 convicted criminal aliens this year alone, including more than 21,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children. We can thank biometrics for the fact that these criminal aliens are no longer walking around freely in our society.
Department of Defense (DoD) directive 8521.01E issued in 2008 states that “Biometrics is an important enabler that shall be fully integrated into the conduct of DoD activities to support the full range of military operations”. Biometric technology is being used more and more by the military to protect our bases from unauthorized entry by evil-doers carrying fake credentials, as was the case in the Fort Dix terrorist attack plot in 2007. In addition, our combat troops rely on biometric technology to help identify insurgents and combatants in places like Afghanistan where the enemy wears no uniform and blends into the population. Biometric technology is protecting our soldiers who are in harm's way.