In India, biometrics poised for growth

Imagine the world you could soon be a part of. Your entry to office may no longer be approved by the ultra-modern CCTVs clamped in the corners of the corridors. The stylish bank ATM in the neighbourhood may ask more than just your card when you withdraw cash. And you don't have to throw a fit if the passport officer, not convinced with your otherwise necessary documents, asks for a DNA record too. In fact, tomorrow, your new office may ask much more than your character certificate from the last office. It may require your iris pattern, face-shape data, scars and perhaps the unique ways you walk and talk.

Set to be the norm in the West, upon request by employers, bodies like FBI are likely to retain the fingerprints of employees to trace them in case they have brushes with the law. Best defined as measurable physiological and/or behavioural characteristics that can be utilised to verify the identity of an individual, biometrics today spans from fingerprints, retinal and iris scanning, hand geometry, voice patterns, facial recognition to other techniques. Initially being employed in specialist high-security applications, these are now being proposed in a much broader range of public facing situations.

Cut to India. VK Sharma, vice president-works, Era Landmarks, has recently approved the deployment of an avant-garde biometric access control system at his new real estate ventures (ranging from IT parks to corporate towers). "Biometrics security systems are practically foolproof, adaptable to other building or office automation systems and now more economical. For those who would be relocating to our premises, there will be no dependence on swipe card machines and its related problems. For us, biometrics will then mean the end of security errors," believes the optimist.

Simon Jayakumar in an antithesis. An operations manager at South India Examinations Unit of the British Council, for him the fingerprint-based access control system at the safe in the office has not been less than a culture shock. Already facing his share of teething problems, he has called in the service provider four times to get the cues right.

"There have been times where the staff wasn't approved and let in by the machine. It kept all of us on tenterhooks till then," he recalls.

Living with mixed reactions, biometrics is indeed the latest fixation in India with more and more companies, residential colonies and individuals logging to it. Lenovo, LG, Fujitsu, Toshiba, among many other tech companies, are churning out new biometrics-enabled ranges promising utmost data safety.

Then there are service providers like Zicom, Godrej, et al that help one with secured networks at one's habitat. Globally, few interesting biometric usage include voice recognition for automatic telephone-based password reset systems (allowing corporate users to reset computer passwords without having to involve help desk staff), Pay by Touch technology at retail stores, etc.

Fujitsu's latest biometric product, PalmSecure is a contactless biometric authentication technology that has been applied in sectors like banking, healthcare and e-governance. It records the vein patterns that are unique to one by emitting near-infrared rays that are absorbed by deoxidised haemoglobin present in blood flowing through a user's palm veins. This causes an image of the palm to be captured as a vein pattern, which is then verified against the user's pre-registered pattern to grant access to a physical location or computer network, informs Sanjay Srivastava, manager, sales and marketing, Fujitsu India.

For Santonu Choudhury, CEO, Consumer Service Group, Zicom Electronic Security Systems Ltd, the requirement of biometrics depends on the choice of identification or verification.

"In an identification application, the biometric device reads a sample and compares it against every template in the database. This is called a 'one-to-many' search. Verification is when the biometric system asks and attempts to answer, 'Is this X?' after the user claims to be X. It uses one of the inputs such as password or a proximity-based card against which the template of the biometric measure is stored and compared," he says.

Where has it reached? For BR Badhri, CEO, Customer Infinity Services Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore-based security solutions provider, the bulk of biometric applications to date are probably in areas that one will never hear of.

"Globally, biometrics could be seen at prison visitor systems, drivers licenses, canteen administration, benefit payment systems, border control, voting systems, junior school areas, gold and diamond mines, bullion warehouses and bank vaults," he says.

With many biometrics applications restricted to banking and security, the service providers are betting big on the concept.

"At present, the market share of biometric security system is Rs150 crore. For us, it makes about 10% of our turnover. We expect it to grow to 15-20% next year," says DE Byramjee, VP & business head, Godrej Security Equipment Division.

Still, a culture shock exists. With brands recording good responses on biometric-enabled products, many still feel that its proliferation is quite at the nascent stage. To blame is the lack of awareness, issues of privacy, choice of right technology to marry appropriately with the application that one intends to deploy, says Manmohan Kumar of BioEnable Technologies. But this is ubiquitous, say experts, with countries like the US apprehensive of the invasion of privacy while in Japan, people are reluctant to touch something used by others. And so, here India gets its benefit of doubt.

(Financial Express -- 01/14/08)