The Origins of Identity
From earliest times, man has sought means to determine who was and who was not a member of a particular group; or who was to be accorded specific rights and privileges as a result of his relationship with or status within a group.
As civilization moved beyond a point that everyone in a community knew everyone else, names, (frequently reflecting paternal lineage or one's role in a community - John's son, or John Smith - are examples) were adopted. But when the number of "John Smiths" increased to a point where name alone could no longer clearly discriminate, or when John Smith ventured farther out in a world where he knew no one, and nobody knew him, other identity conventions were needed.
Identity and the ability to authenticate it is a critical component of collective security in a world where ideas, information and capital move at the push of a button, and where anyone can get anywhere in a matter of hours. Today, personal identity and the ability to prove it can influence where one lives, where one can travel, whether one can be trusted as a partner in commerce, as well as one's ability to access information or resources.
As we face new social, political, and economic challenges in the 21st century, it is fitting that underpinnings of collective security rest on biometrics, technologies that reflect the uniqueness of the men, women and children living in societies we strive to create and improve upon.
These biometric technologies can make our world safer and reduce risk. Biometrics can also introduce convenience and labor-saving to our lives. Biometrics can help re-engineer business processes, helping private enterprise to thrive and reducing burdens on strained public sector infrastructures so they can be more productive for constituents. And biometrics can do all this, not at the expense of privacy, but rather by assuring privacy's very survival.
Biometrics - Physical & Behaviorally-Based Identity Authentication
Instead of basing identity authentication on what someone possesses or what someone knows, biometric identification is based on what one is, or how one behaves, This approach to identification is made possible by technology developments that enable precise measurement coupled with computational power that allows measurements to be transformed into mathematical representations that can be rapidly compared.
- The Unique Physical Attribute
Fingerprints on cards, and lifted from the scene of a crime have been used for more than one hundred years as proof of individual identification for forensic and law enforcement purposes. Once time-consumingly collected as inked sets on cards, they are now routinely collected by electronic or optical sensors that turn patterns once only defined as whorls and arches into mathematical representations called biometric templates. Other physical attributes that can be measured and converted into mathematical representations include: faces, fingerprints, hands, iris patterns, retinal patterns, vein patterns, voice patterns, and DNA. Exploratory work has been done to establish whether physical characteristics such as earlobes and body odor can be effectively measured, mathematically represented, and rapidly compared for use in electronic identity authentication.
- The Unique Behavioral Attribute
Measurable mathematical values that can be quickly compared to establish an association with a specific person can be assigned to not only physical traits, but also to behavioral traits. Templates reflecting individual characteristics exhibited in signing one's name - the speed, angle of the pen and pressure exerted, as well as the physical appearance of the signature itself-are used in signature dynamics. Unique patterns that emerge in studying individual self-expression are not limited to handwriting. The way one interacts with a keyboard can also be studied, measured, and committed to mathematical representation in keystroke dynamics. And behavioral attributes aren't relegated to things related to up-close personal expression. The unique ways in which a person moves when walking can be, and is observed, measured and expressed mathematically in a technique known as gait recognition-one of the biometric technologies most suited to personal identification at a distance.
Benefits of Biometrics Compared to Traditional Identity Conventions
One approach to establishing the identity of an individual was based on tokens. A token was, and remains, something a person possesses and uses to assert a claim to identity. The passport that once took the form of a letter from the king asking all who saw it to guarantee safe passage to the bearer-- is still one of many tokens, things one possesses, routinely used for personal identification.
Sometimes ascertaining identity required an individual have some specific special knowledge, known only by a person with bonafides. Whether a single word, a phrase, an alphanumeric combination entered on a keyboard, or a response to a challenge - "last four digits of your social," "mother's maiden name," or "shortstop for the Dodgers," etc. - what one knows remains a common practice in deciding whether an individual's claim of identity should stand - or not.
While widely used to this day, tokens and special knowledge are by themselves no longer sufficient to authenticate identity. If in possession of the token or facsimile, or having by accident or design acquired the required piece of knowledge, it is relatively easy to represent that one is someone, whom in fact, they are not.