EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 21, 2012

Biometric IDs advancing

Benefits extolled, but technologies worry privacy advocates


Some devices — such as Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus phone — also incorporate features to identify the user by his or her face, and Apple recently won a patent for such technology. Meanwhile, Intel is studying biometric alternatives to house and car keys, and described voice, face and “gesture” recognition capabilities it helped develop at a conference last week. The chipmaker also just bought Israeli-based IDesia Biometrics, whose technology enables PCs to recognize users by their heartbeats.

In a preliminary study for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the nonprofit MITRE research organization in April announced data showing “that human odor may serve as a unique biometric identifier.” Meanwhile, the security agency has said it is developing portable DNA scanners, in part to “reduce kinship fraud” by immigrants claiming the right to join relatives in this country.

James Wayman, a San Jose State University professor who has studied biometric concepts for decades, doubts people can be identified by their gait or odor. And though passwords can be stolen, he believes they will remain the most practical way to access computers. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that voice and face-recognition methods have improved — a change that, coupled with cyber attacks on computerized data, has fueled interest in biometric technologies to strengthen security. Global sales of biometric products are expected to jump from less than $3 billion in 2009 to about $6 billion this year and nearly $11 billion by 2017, according to Acuity Market Intelligence.

Still, fears persist that the trend could degrade personal privacy. Intel technology evangelist Vu Nguyen said the chipmaker hopes to ease that concern by letting people choose whether to use biometric devices and by limiting what is done with their information.

But with digital cameras proliferating, countless people could be photographed and identified without their knowledge, some experts warned at a July congressional hearing on face-recognition technology used by Facebook, whose users upload as many as 300 million photos daily. Moreover, they told lawmakers, by combining that information with databases being compiled from social media sites, Internet search records and other sources, detailed dossiers could be quickly compiled on people by government authorities and businesses.

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