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Biometrics refers to unique physiological human characteristics that help in identifying an individual. Etymologically, it means “life measurement”. With the advent of computers, the meaning and dimension of biometrics have changed significantly. Biometric traits are the deciding factors to recognize a person’s identity by using special features such as face, finger-prints, iris, voice, and so on. In this sense, biometrics is far superior to simpler methods like passwords and PIN. In identification via biometrics, the person’s physical presence is important. The biometric system works with the help of patterns to detect physiological characteristics. Biometrics can be used to identify as well as verify, which can be one-to-many or one-to-one.

There are two broad categories of biometric tests. The first category is physiological biometrics, which is essentially scanning the physical features of an individual to obtain unique biometric information about that person. The second biometric category is known as behavioral biometrics. Behavioral biometrics is an upcoming branch of biometrics which studies the unique pattern of a person’s behavior such as the gait, the voice or the typing rhythm. This branch is also known as “behaviometrics” by some experts.

Here’s a list of the most popular physiological biometric tests which are increasingly deployed by private firms and government agencies.


One of the major biometric identifiers is DNA. A DNA sample is used to get a DNA finger-print or a profile since DNA is present in every human cell. This DNA sample cannot be altered, unlike other conventional methods. DNA promises more precision and accuracy as far as biometric identifiers are concerned. While it is not an automated technique, it is gaining popularity as a sure shot method. DNA sampling is more about comparison of samples than feature extraction. At this point, DNA typing is predominantly used for forensics purposes.

  • Biometric Identifier (PDF): Discusses how DNA is used as a biometric identifier.
  • DNA: An introduction to DNA for biometric purposes.
  • Forensic DNA Typing (PDF): A look at how forensic DNA typing can be used as a biometric tool.
  • What is DNA: Understanding how DNA works is necessary in order to fully understand DNA biometrics.
  • Biometric DNA Ink (PDF): A report on the use of biometric DNA ink for secure authentication.


Biometric identification also includes fingerprints, which is an impression coming from the ridges of a human finger. Fingerprints are unique and there are algorithms to recognize them. Acquiring fingerprints may be a tough task because fingers may have scratches or cuts. On the other hand, it is an easy and cost-effective method. A huge database is also available for the fingerprint biometric identification technique. Fingerprint sensors are used to analyze fingerprint samples which can be stored in USB drives conveniently. The fingerprint biometric identification technique is primarily used by law enforcement agencies however businesses have also begun to use fingerprinting as a means of logging the hours employees work, requiring workers to scan their finger prints every time they begin and end their work day.

Hand Geometry

Biometrics also uses geometry to identify and verify. In the hand geometry biometric identification technique, the geometric shape of a person’s hand is used to verify a user’s identity. Biometric hand geometry identification systems are used by border control agencies and immigration agencies. Hand geometry biometric identification technique is one of the easiest ways of identifying and storing information about an individual.

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is a different technique which deploys computers for biometric identification. It is a computer application that uses digital image or a video frame to identify and verify a person’s unique facial characteristics. Facial recognition is mainly used in high end security systems. There is face recognition software that notes a number of angles in the face and creates a unique template with all the numerical data which has been gathered. The software also takes into account the closeness of a match. With multiple images, the biometric readings are more enhanced. Lately, there has been a great improvement in the manner databases of terrorists are stored. Today, facial recognition is used in some of the biggest American airports where security risks are highest. Banks have already started using this application as test programs for cashing checks without a human teller.

Iris Recognition

Iris recognition is rendered with the help of iris cameras that identify and analyze random patterns mathematically. It is a consolidated data of statistics, optics, and patterns. Interestingly, the patent for iris recognition has existed since 1994. Now, it has gone back in vogue as scanners are widely available. Iris recognition is very reliable since the iris is always protected by the cornea and thus the pattern never changes. It has two muscles that make the movement easier. Iris recognition is used in areas such as processing of passports, aviation, and more. Iris recognition is also being planned to be implemented in National Identity Cards.

Additional Biometrics Resources

  • Biometrics: The journal published by the International Biometrics Society.
  • The Biometric Consortium: A platform for development, evaluation, research, application, and testing of biometrics technology.
  • US Borders: A look at the use of biometrics in the safety and security of US borders.
  • Who’s Watching You?: The Electronic Frontier Foundation provides a great overview on biometrics.
  • BIMA: The official website of the Biometrics Identity Management Agency.
  • IBIA: Home page of the International Biometrics & Identification Association.
  • IEEE: The IEEE Biometrics Council is dedicated to the advancement and development in the field of biometrics.
  • Biometrics Lab: The research center at Carnegie Mellon with featured research on face recognition, iris recognition, Face Tracking, and more.
  • NBSP: Official site of the National Biometric Security Project.
  • The Biometric Foundation: Dedicated to the study and research of biometric technologies.
  • US-VISIT: Explains how US-VISIT has used biometrics to make travel easy, convenient, and simple for legitimate visitors while keeping out dangerous people.
  • Journal of Biometrics & Biostatistics: Publishes research related to biometrics and biostatistics.
  • IJBB: The International Journal of Biometrics and Bioinformatics.
  • Biometrics in China (PDF): Provides information on the use of biometrics in China.
  • Biometrics at the Frontiers (PDF): The paper takes a look at the social impacts of biometrics.
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