Biometrics have been used effectively in computing applications for some time, primarily for high-security environments in which the recognizing the unique characteristics of an individual are of paramount importance. Typically, you see them used in in Government, TOP SECRET and Financial systems.
Usually, you see them in the form of either fingerprint or retina scan, and sometimes even voice print identification. There are other ways of doing biometrics, but these are the ones which are in common use.
One such system that used both fingerprint and retina is the CLEAR registered traveler service, which recently re-opened under new ownership with limited service at Orlando airport after its parent company, Verified Identity Pass ceased operations in June of 2009.
Despite the fact that the company had financial troubles and the service may have come before its time, their authentication system itself was one of the best I've ever seen, which used a combination of an electronic identity card containing a biometric signature, as well as retina and fingerprint scanning.
Fingerprint scanners are inexpensive, ranging from $40-$50 retail if you want to add one to your PC. Some higher-end business laptops, such as my Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch, already have them built in.
As a component cost of integrating into a USB keyboard, a laptop, tablet or smartphone, the price is significantly less if you start manufacturing them in the tens of millions. Apple has already proven this by integrating fingerprint scanners into their iPhone 5S, and by Samsung with their new Galaxy S5.
Built-In cameras in laptops and smartphones with high-resolution CCDs and constantly improving macro capability and miniaturized optics also could make retina scan on portable devices and PCs an affordable reality within a number of years.
These solutions could also be combined with RFID implants and/or voice print identification as well as Trusted Platform Modules (TPM) and virtual smartcards to have multiple points of identification, in order to minimize the risk of access due to biometric forgery or coercion under duress (such as being forced to authenticate under gunpoint).
The cost and integration of the hardware is only part of the problem, though. What we really need is a standardized API that would work on every OS platform and the web, so that you have seamless session-based biometric logins for all the services and applications one might use.
And biometric enrollment must either get centralized, federated or a lot easier to do than it is now.
Given the continued importance of services such as Google Apps, FaceBook, Twitter and other services, as well as the amount of passwords that we now need to maintain, it's starting to look like we need a universal biometric API, and preferably one which has government buy-in in terms of accepted standards.
I'd like to see Google, FaceBook, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, HP, Oracle and Apple as well as the Office of the CIO of the United States and equivalent organizations in the EU make this a priority.
There's far too much identity theft and password compromises going on and it's costing consumers, businesses and governments hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars a year, not to mention the aggravation and embarrassment of having your data compromised and the harm to your personal and business reputation when it occurs.
With the prevalence of Social Networking, smartphones and mobile applications, do we need a mass-adoption of biometrics? Talk Back and Let Me Know.