Multimodality: The Brave New World of Biometrics

5 mins read

Image: Chris Harvey,

With all the attention and outrage over the Department of Homeland Security’s full-body scanners now in place at airports around the country, another technology seems to have slipped under the radar.

Biometrics describes systems that collect data – fingerprints, for example – and then match them to an information bank of stored data. Fingerprint biometrics are the most common, popularized by shows like CSI. But the list of data being collected and stored, not to mention the technology that makes these functions possible is growing, and the technology rapidly evolving.

Along with fingerprints, biometrics data now includes voiceprints, which recognizes voice patterns, iris and retina scans, and facial recognition.

Reality, in the form of multimodal biometric recognition, is looking more and more like science fiction.

For example, observers predict that biometric systems might soon be able to scan people walking in a crowd.


The answer lies in iris scanning, which is quickly outpacing retina scanning because it is easier to do and yields better results

Iris scanning captures an image of the iris, the colored part of the eye surrounding the pupil, using infrared light. The retina is farther back in the eye and not readily visible, making attempts to scan it somewhat more complicated.

A sales official with a leading iris-scanning technology firm said the final goal was to make such scanning as unobtrusive as possible.

“Our goal is to be able to make the capture process so simple that as you’re walking, you can be authenticated,” Mohammed Murad with Iris ID told Assa Abloy Future Lab for a report on the brave new world of iris-scanning technology.

Right now, iris scans are generally only successful with as long as they are conducted within just a few meters. However, some companies are developing iris scans that would identify subjects from a distance of as much as 10 meters.

Multimodality, as the wave of the future, has opened the doors for a number of new next-generation security measures for law enforcement and the federal government.

For example, the FBI’s Next Generation Identification program aims to combine regular methods such as fingerprints with iris scanning.

According to TechNewsWorld, the U.S. Army Biometrics Task Force teamed up with Raytheon to provide biometric services. Another example of biometrics can be found in the wallets of Army personnel and Defense Department employees: DoD’s Common Access Card, a “smart” ID card.

“The CAC contains personal data as well as biometrics data on the chip that provides us the identity of the holder of the card,” Maj. Gen. Steven Smith told The New New Internet earlier this year. “So, in a sense that gives us our two-factor authentication in the Army.

Stevens also added the Army is working “very closely with the biometrics task force on alternate or complimentary identity techniques, as this technology progresses,” even including facial recognition, fingerprint and iris scans.

On top of that, biometrics are simply becoming more commonplace in all walks of life.

According to the report by the Assa Abloy Lab, those checking in to the presidential suite of a Boston hotel might find themselves staring into an iris scanner. And the lab reports the technology has also been used as a precautionary tool so that missing children can be identified.

But recent reports suggest biometrics should be seen and used in perspective.

In late September, the National Research Council along with Joseph N. Pato, a technologist at Hewlett-Packard’s HP Laboratories, released a report, which said government and law enforcement should tread cautiously when using biometrics because all such systems are “inherently fallible.”

The report, “Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities,” perfectly sums up the existing debate over biometrics.

While the technology is impressive and opportunities seem limitless, there are still challenges, such as the possibility of false positives and the fact that things like fingerprints can actually change over time.

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