Biometrics Firm Eyeing World Bent on Security

Growing global demand for protection against terrorism and identity theft could help Biometrics Technologies New Zealand tap into a billion-dollar market, the Auckland-based company says. Its idea is as old as the pyramids, where workers were identified not only by name but by traits including size, face shape and complexion.

Biometrics was given $263,000 by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology to help put a modern spin on the old idea - identifying among other things people's fingerprints, irises and faces.

The company has a trial running in a Welsh school where supervisors use a hand-held device to photograph students' faces, which are automatically checked against records to weed out any would-be exam cheats.

The school also uses web-cams to take a register by recording images of students as they enter classrooms. The images are matched to a database within seconds and trigger alerts if any students are missing.

The key to the facial recognition technology is the recording of a number of measurements, including the distance between the tip of the nose and the eye.

Biometrics said it could also use closed-circuit television cameras to monitor faces within a crowd.

Biometrics director Tessa Jelowicki said the company faced strong competition in a global market worth at least a billion dollars.

The business plan was to target local businesses directly - where about $1000 could provide a system covering up to 250 employees - while partnering with bigger organisations when bidding for larger contracts.

"The biometrics industry is going ahead so fast overseas," Jelowicki said. "In the United States, a customer can pay for credit card purchases by fingerprint touch and there are keyboards with fingerprint scanners."

The technology was becoming more accepted as explanations of its potential benefits allayed concerns about lost privacy. "Technology is advancing," she said. "Why be scared of it, why not embrace it and make it work to your advantage."

Japanese banks were installing thermal image readers to check the vein pattern in customers' palms.