Biometrics is described as the use of human physical features to verify identity and has been in use since the beginning of recorded history. Only recently, biometrics has been used in today’s high-tech society for the prevention of identity theft. In this paper, we will be understanding biometrics, exploring the history of biometrics, examples of today’s current technology and where biometrics are expected to go in the future. By definition, “biometrics” (Woodward, Orlans, and Higgins, 2003) is the science of using biological properties to identify individuals; for example, fingerprints, retina scans, and voice recognition. We’ve all seen in the movies, how the heroes and the villains have used other’s fingerprints and voice patterns to get into the super, secret vault. While these ideas were fantasy many years ago, today biometrics are being used and you may not even know it. By combining the Greek words “bio”, which stands for “life”, and “metrics”, which stands for “measure”, you produce the term “biometrics” or “life measurements”. To understand biometrics at the most basic level, all one has to do is to picture a loved one in their mind. A human can specifically recognize another human by remembering an eye color, a hair color, a nose shape, a wart, or any combination of facial features. While the human mind is capable of remembering the physical characteristics of several humans, it is impossible to retain, reference, and sort thousands of biometric data which may contain details down to the molecular level. Today, this has been made easier by computer technology. The first recorded use of biometrics dates back to the 14th century when the Spanish explorer Joao de Barros witnessed Chinese parents pressing their children’s inked fingers and feet onto paper allowing them to differentiate one child from another. Through Barros’ travels, he noted that Chinese businessmen also closed various financial and business transactions with fingerprints. There are other pieces of historical evidence indicating the use of biometrics for various purposes prior to Barros’ records. However, none were successfully documented. Vacca (2007) found the use of biometrics would slip into the darkness until the mid to late 1800s when it would reemerge to be known as “anthropometrics” and address the identification crisis facing the world resulting from a population explosion, human mobility, and a need to positively identify individuals. In 1858, Sir William Herschel stamped the handprint of employees to determine whether the person in line to receive a paycheck was an employee or an imposter. In 1870, Alphonse Bertillon developed “Bertillonage” known as a process for collecting and documenting multiple physical measurements to identify convicts who had been released back into the general populous. While Bertillonage was popular with law enforcement, it was quickly determined that two people could potentially share the exact same measurements and could not be used reliably.
The following is a biometric development timeline:
1903 – New York State Prisons begin using fingerprints to identify criminals.
1936 – Ophthalmologist Frank Burch proposes retinal identification.
1960s – Face recognition and fingerprint identification become automated. Speech patterns recognized as a potential for identification. Signature research begins.
1970s – Hand geometry and signature recognition systems become available. Speech recognition systems are prototyped.
1980s – Patents for hand and iris identification are awarded. Fingerprint records are made available to a greater number of law enforcement agencies.
1990s – Real-time facial recognition is developed. The Biometric Consortium is established. Hand geometry is used for security at the 1996 Olympics with an enrollment of 65,000 records and 1 million transactions over 28 days. CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) is launched by the FBI.