Biometric Passports: The Future Is Now

In wake of London attacks, biometrics in the passport gets a renewed push

Meanwhile, biometrics expert Deravi points out that the technology has only been tested on small sampling of individuals. "At best, we don't know how the technology will perform at the scale of a country's population," he said.

Different biometric indicators also perform differently. Face recognition usually performs poorly, whereas iris recognition is believed to be more accurate.

Deravi is also concerned the technology may not be as secure as some suggest.

"There is evidence of people being able to spoof biometric measures," he said, citing the example of a Japanese professor who makes fake fingers yielding fingerprints that can fool the system.

Of course, countermeasures can be developed to eliminate such issues, Deravi said.

The problem remains, however, that if the technology is rushed to market, there may not be enough time for scientists to understand its shortcomings. That would mean governments couldn't necessarily take the appropriate legislative and technological measures to counterbalance those risks.

But for now, nothing is set in stone.

The U.S. Department of Defense hasn't yet decided to whom it will award the contract to make biometric passports. Apart from Axalto, there's only one other European company on the shortlist: German chipmaker Infineon Technologies AG IFX623100.

Infineon also makes security-cryptal controllers that can be used in electronic passports. And it has already provided the smart cards used by the some U.S. government agencies for access to their buildings and networks.

Contract aside, biometrics has been lucrative for Axalto so far.

The share price for the Netherlands-based firm, which trades on the Paris stock exchange, has risen from 15 euros in August 2004 to about 27 euros now as the company has honed in on the biometric world.