Biometrics are technologies that automatically confirm the identity of people by comparing patterns of physical or behavioral characteristics in real time against enrolled computer records of those patterns. Leading biometric technologies accomplish this task by scanning patterns of the face, fingerprint, hand, iris, palm, signature, skin, or voice.
Biometrics are far superior to other common means of confirming identity, such as tokens (something one possesses) or passwords (something one knows). Tokens (drivers' licenses, for example) and passwords (Social Security numbers, for example) cannot ensure positive identification of a person. Tokens are routinely counterfeited and stolen. Passwords are routinely forgotten, left in plain sight, and stolen. Unlike tokens or passwords, biometric identifiers are inextricably linked to persons themselves and therefore cannot be forgotten, counterfeited, or stolen.
Biometrics help protect privacy by erecting a barrier between personal data and unauthorized access. Technically, biometric capture devices create electronic digital templates that are encrypted and stored and then compared to encrypted templates derived from "live" images in order to confirm the identity of a person. The templates are generated from complex and proprietary algorithms and are then encrypted using strong cryptographic algorithms to secure and protect them from disclosure. Thus, standing alone, biometric templates cannot be reconstructed, decrypted, reverse-engineered, or otherwise manipulated to reveal a person's identity. In short, biometrics can be thought of as a very secure key: Unless a biometric gate is unlocked by using the right key, no one can gain access to a person's identity.