They Want Your Body

By John Edwards, CIO |  Security, Network access control

Face-Off

Facial recognition is another biometrics technology that's widely considered nonintrusive. It's so passive, in fact, that the systems can scan people without their knowledge. Gartner Dataquest's Reynolds notes that many casinos, and even some police departments, use a combination of security cameras and facial recognition software to match faces against databases of known troublemakers.

Facial recognition works by isolating human faces in still pictures and measuring an array of facial characteristics, such as the geometry of a person's eyes, mouth and nose. Using a proprietary algorithm, the system compares the image to database-stored photos for probability-ranked matches. And certain facial aspects don't change, even with age or weight fluctuations.

Besides spotting potential pests, facial recognition can also provide access verification. San Francisco-based InnoVentry uses technology from Jersey City, N.J.-based Visionics in its cash management machines, which reside in supermarkets, convenience stores and other retail outlets in 20 states. To protect against fraud, the system snaps a picture of each user and compares the image to a database of about 800,000 customers. The process takes approximately four minutes on the user's first session and about 90 seconds on return visits.

Although generally satisfied with the technology's performance, Frank Petro, InnoVentry's chairman and CEO, admits that being an early adopter has presented some challenges. "We had to figure out a way to get people to look at the camera properly," he says. Light control also proved to be a problem, since too much light entering the camera lens can reduce recognition accuracy. "But you learn how to control these things by creating better user instructions and positioning units more carefully," says Petro.

Like other biometric technologies, facial recognition system prices have fallen rapidly. Visionics estimates that a bank can add the capability for less than 10 cents per transaction. In a corporate setting, costs range from about $50 to $70 per seat.

Brave New World

As biometrics prooducts become simpler and cheaper, the technology has begun to turn up in a number of places including PC keyboards, notebook computers and mobile phones. Acer America, for example, has incorporated a fingerprint reader into its TravelMate 739TLV notebook. "The technology is designed to prevent thieves from accessing critical data," says Arif Maskatia, Acer's vice president for advanced technology. The device could also verify a user's identity for online purchases, although no Web shopping service currently supports the technology. For notebook users who wish to retrofit their systems, Compaq Computer Corp. recently introduced a fingerprint reader that works on any Windows notebook with a PC card slot.

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