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Group plans XML standard for biometrics

The XML Common Biometric Format will let Web services more easily swap data that defines personal traits such as fingerprints, iris scans and even DNA details
Written by Margaret Kane, Contributor

One of the largest XML standards groups is hoping that a key Web language will provide a standard way for computers and technology to describe human characteristics.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, said on Thursday that it has formed a technical committee to develop an XML standard for biometrics. XML, short for Extensible Markup Language, describes the contents of documents exchanged over the Web.

The field of biometrics puts computing hardware and software to the task of reading various parts of the human body, from fingerprints to the contours of a face, as a means of identifying people -- whether to authorise access to bank accounts and airport terminals or to pick criminals out of a crowd.

Applications of biometric technology have been popping up steadily in recent months, and interest has only intensified since the attacks in New York and Washington last September.

"Biometrics, in essence 'what you are,' are destined to replace 'what you know' items, such as PIN numbers, and to augment 'what you have' forms of identification, such as cards," Phillip H. Griffin, chairman of the organisation's XML Common Biometric Format (XCBF) Technical Committee, said in a statement.

Until now, he said, biometric standards used more complicated binary encoding formats.

An essential feature of XML is that it is readable by people, not just machines, making systems easy to debug. Many people see the language as essential to the development of next-generation Web services.

The proposed XCBF standard will define information such as DNA, fingerprints, iris scans and hand geometry for use in identification and authentication. Its basis in XML will help facilitate the transfer of biometric information across the Internet, the organization said.

The OASIS committee will define a set of XML encodings for the Common Biometric Exchange File Format (CBEFF), a draft by the American National Standards Institute, managed and maintained by the National Institute of Standards Technology. The file format is intended to describe data elements necessary to support biometric technologies in a standard way.

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