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Biometrics is the science and technology of measuring and statistically analyzing biological data. In information technology, biometrics usually refers to technologies for measuring and analyzing human body characteristics such as fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, voice patterns, facial patterns, and hand measurements, especially for authenticating someone. Often seen in science-fiction action adventure movies, face pattern matchers and body scanners seem about to emerge as replacements for computer passwords.

Fingerprint and other biometric devices consist of a reader or scanning device, software that converts the scanned information into digital form, and, wherever the data is to be analyzed, a database that stores the biometric data for comparison with entered biometric data. In converting the biometric input, the software identifies specific points of data as match points. The match points are processed using an algorithm into a value that can be compared with biometric data scanned when a user tries to gain access.

Besides fingerprints, voice patterns, face measurement, and retina and iris measurements are considered viable approaches. One vendor makes a product that analyzes patterns using a neural network approach. Fingerprint, facial, or other biometric data can be placed on smart card and users can present both the smartcard and their fingerprints or faces to merchants, banks, or telephones for an extra degree of authentication. Some analysts feel that biometric data is likely to be used instead of a password to release digital signature to authorize sales and other transactions.

IBM, Microsoft, Novell, and others are developing a A Tour of the Internet, Who Runs It, Standards Org, called BioAPI, that will allow different manufacturers' software to interact. There are privacy concerns about the gathering and proliferation of biometric data. One suggestion is to encrypt the biometric data and discard the original data.

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This was first published in January 2001

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