Biometrics has been a useful technology in financial applications as well as access control, supported by firms such as DigitalPersona and Vodafone (and the mass of credit card application providers). However, it also has a controversial alter-ego. Many governments seek to create national identity cards, or already have them, using biometrics and/or RFID as the core technology.
Discussed as a prominent technology in passports, now Sens. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), are advocating biometrics as the cornerstone technology for their Comprehensive Immigration bill. The plan is to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants by making it mandatory for all American workers to have a national biometric ID card as a prerequisite to being hired. This is a hot topic in the press and with organizations on all sides of the issue, including privacy rights advocates. As Sting says, "Every place you go, I'll be watching you..." This is their concern.
But those concerned with not only the general influx of illegal workers, but also the illicit trafficking of counterfeits, human slavery and drugs, brought on by these illicit supply chains, also have a point. In the US, the border is a huge political, criminal and social issue. You must see this interactive map on the drug cartels coming in from Mexico (from the New York Times), if you did not see this before. It's pretty shocking.
The technology approach also has obstacles and questions - can it really work? Can it be hacked? These "ethical hackers" think the system is really easy to hack, which brings up the challenge of government-mandated technologies that are flawed.
Make no mistake. Biometric technology is not a science project. In our recent MIT RFID and Sensor SIG, we had a whole session on biometrics - covering some mega players such as Northrop Grumman that is developing solutions for government and military. We make the point, which they also have established in working practice, that to be successful, the system must have a multi-pronged approach, with secure data and algorithmic validations of the biometrics and other security features.
Younger players are also successful in this market. There are young but established companies: check out DigitalPersona, which is focused on corporate applications such as time and attendance and financial validation; Datastrip, with ruggedized readers focused at law enforcement; and startups like M2SYS, that are focused on consumer applications and platforms like the iPhone. These are examples of biometric firms that demonstrate the broad applicability of biometrics in the marketplace.
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