The Eyes Have It
Although fingerprint scanning is cheap and generally accurate, it's not as foolproof as some other biometric technologies. According to Reynolds, various types of fingerprint reproductions (latex moldings, for one) have fooled readers in the past. That loophole could pose a big problem for banks, government agencies and other organizations that require ironclad security, he notes.
Then there's the performance problem. Fingerprint recognition technology can bog down when connected to a massive database. Leisurely performance usually isn't a problem for small businesses or government agencies with captive clients. But for
organizations with large databases and significant customer service commitments, fingerprint scanning is often too slow. But other ttechnologies purport to be far faster. Bill Voltmer, president and CEO of Iridian Technologies, a Marlton, N.J.-based biometrics vendor that specializes in iris recognition technology, estimates that an iris recognition system can sort through 100,000 records in two or three seconds, while claiming that a fingerprint system would require at least 15 minutes to perform the same task.
When scanned for identification, the iris serves as a kind of human bar code -- a unique pattern of connective tissue and other features. In the entire human population, no two irises are alike, even between identical twins.
Customer convenience, enhanced security and rapid verification convinced Houston's Bank United to test Iridian technology in its next generation ATMs (a recent acquisition by Seattle-based Washington Mutual may change those plans). "We wanted to use this technology to replace both the ATM card and PIN number," says Ron Coben, Bank United's executive vice president for community banking. Bank United has operated its "EyeTMs" in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, since 1999. "We have learned that iris recognition is consumer-friendly and easy to use," says Coben.
Iris recognition's biggest disadvantage has been its high cost. But prices have fallen dramatically during the past few years. Iridian, for example, recently introduced a low-end iris recognition product, Authenticam, which will sell for $299 as a single unit. Regardless of cost, iris recognition offers an important intangible benefit, says San Jose State's Wayman. "Many people associate fingerprinting with criminal activity." Iris recognition is a hands-off technology that works at distances of up to several feet and is less intrusive than fingerprint scanning. "It's much more readily accepted by users," he says.