Biometrics: the Future of Access Control?

Biometrics is a developing technology that may, over time, become one of the most effective tools in facility access control and security applications. While the convenience and accuracy of biometrics make it such a promising technology, there are still some technological, cost and privacy issues that need to be sorted out.


Biometrics is a developing technology that may, over time, become one of the most effective tools in facility access control and security applications. While the convenience and accuracy of biometrics make it such a promising technology, there are still some technological , cost and privacy issues that need to be sorted out.

A little background…

Biometry can be defined as the statistical analysis of biological observations. Biometric security technology creates a statistical file based on measurable physiological traits or behavioral patterns, and then uses this information to recognize or verify an individual.

This technology is still in its infancy and, as such, is being developed in many forms: Some of the most common examples are facial recognition, iris-scan, retina-scan, fingerprint recognition, hand geometry, voice recognition and signature verification.

While it is far too early to tell which type of system will become the most viable, they all have advantages and disadvantages. Fingerprint readers, for example, are generally the most user-friendly of the group, while iris and retina scanners have been shown to offer accuracy benefits.

These systems can be used for "one-to-one" verification—where an individual matches a biometric profile based on a password or smart card—or to verify the authorization of "one of many"—where the biometric file is matched to a database of authorized users. In some applications, biometrics have even been used to check random identities against criminal databases—as was done at the Super Bowl this year with the stated mission of preventing terrorism.

Great potential

The major advantage of biometrics is the potential for increased performance capability . Unlike smart cards, passwords or PIN numbers, biometrics guarantees the identity of a person because identification is so tightly bound to the individual.

Another positive is cost and convenience , as individuals automatically carry their identification with them. Besides eliminating the potential for lost cards or forgotten passwords—a drain on company time and resources—biometric identificaton can also be ideal for many applications, such as workout facilities, where carrying an ID may be an inconvenience. In addition, a better functioning, automated security system lessens the need for security personnel, another cost benefit.

Existing hurdles

Despite the potential of biometric security, a number of hurdles to the technology's widespread use certainly exist.

Technologically , biometrics is "not quite ready for prime time." One of the major barriers is a lack of industry standards, communications protocols and software. As part of the solution, the federal government has set up the Biometric Consortium, an organization currently conducting research and testing. And while many vendors have begun integrating biometrics into their access-control products, they are not yet a big part of any vendor's total building solution.

As with most developing technologies, biometrics also comes with a hefty price tag . While offices and schools may have increasing security worries and budgets, the high first costs of biometric technology will still limit it to applications where a breach of security is very costly—such as high-tech, financial or government facilities. Additionally, while the inhabitants of most facilities would love to feel safe, they may not readily accept more intrusive security measures —which biometric identification certainly is.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle, over the long term, is privacy . Technology will improve, first cost will come down, but the issue of privacy is more difficult to solve. With mounting concerns about the electronic security of social-security numbers, birthdates and credit-card numbers, creating files of individual human biologies is surely another intrusive step for technology.

However, as with most technology, time will most likely prove that positive benefits overshadow any initial doubt. Over the next decade, biometrics should become a familiar, and beneficial, option for nearly any major facility's security plan.

Biometric Barriers…

First cost

Not a polished solution

Privacy concerns

… and Benefits

Safer facilities

User convenience

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