Experts eye biometric issues

An expert has warned that biometric systems may struggle to identify people with visual or facial disabilities. Or who have arthritis. Or are too tall or too short...
Written by Dan Ilett, Contributor

Biometric scanners used for the national identity card scheme could exclude people with visual, facial or other physical disabilities from using the technology, according to a leading expert on Tuesday.

Angela Sasse, professor of human-centred technology at University College London, warned that biometric technology is underdeveloped to such an extent that iris scanners are often unable to verify identities of people wearing glasses and contact lenses, for example.

"Users may have problems presenting characteristics," said Sasse. "If you have arthritis, you could have trouble putting your finger flat on the reader. Many biometric iris readers are unable to scan people with no irises or eye injuries. That's where we see the percentage of people that can't use biometrics going up and up."

"Biometrics have the potential to improve business processes, but only if the systems are robust, reliable and easy to install and maintain. These are big ifs. And I haven't seen one product that does all of this."

In Western Europe, around 50 percent of the population has corrected vision, using glasses and contact lenses to see properly. Sasse said that with the ageing population, this would mean a larger number of people could be affected when using scanners.

People under 1.55 metres tall, which would include people in wheelchairs, or over 2.10 metres face difficulty using scanners, she said.

Sasse said that criminals and prisoners may be able to dodge the technology. "You have to consider that someone trying to avoid detection will make that characteristic unavailable. Some people grind down their fingerprints or burn them off with acid. There are also people with work injuries and those who play racquet sports [whose prints can be worn away]."

Sasse was speaking at the Challenge of Biometrics seminar at the Institute of Electrical Engineers in London.

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