Insider Intelligence: Biometrics Enters the Mainstream

June 10, 2014
Gaining acceptance in the consumer market is impacting security

Many years ago, when I first started selling security systems, biometric devices such as hand geometry readers and fingerprint scanners had only been in our security lexicon for a very short time. Iris recognition devices and palm vein readers were not yet on the security scene. Even back then, early pundits stated that the use of biometrics and biometric readers would soon replace all traditional card readers used in access control and time-and-attendance systems and would be the imminent means for identifying an individual for security purposes.

So much for the efficacy of early pundits. Sure, there have been milestones and documented uses of biometrics in Physical Access Control Systems in our lifetime, but outright acceptance and adoption has been sluggish at best. After all, to many of our fellow brethren in the Baby Boomer generation, the fear of Big Brother or some other Orwellian nightmare coupled with the high price of technology has hampered acceptability.

The reality, however, is that if we define Biometric Authentication as the process by which a person’s unique physical or human body characteristics are used as a means of confirming identity, then we have been employing this discipline on a regular basis for quite some time. How about the use of fingerprints set in clay tablets by Babylonians circa 500 BC to record and verify early business transactions? In early Egypt, traders were identified by specific physical descriptors so that they could be known as trusted suppliers and differentiated from those who were new to the market.

Fast forward to the modern era — patents were awarded in the mid 1980s for both hand identification (hand geometry) as well as iris identification. Hand geometry readers were used to identify participants at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. In 2001, at the Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, a facial recognition system was used to capture the images of approximately 100,000 fans that passed through the turnstiles. Those images were matched against a database of known criminals. All told, 19 individuals were flagged — happily, none as serious threats to security.

Today, you just have to look at your smartphone to see the advancement. The latest iPhone has a fingerprint; Samsung and PayPal recently announced a new mobile app to use your fingerprint scan on a Galaxy S5 smartphone to log in and conduct secure PayPal transactions. Fujitsu recently announced it may build palm vein biometric technology (also called vascular pattern analysis) into tablets and smartphones. Also, Iris Recognition devices now are more widely used both in real-time access control as well as in forensics work.

A recent article on on the acceptability of biometrics on college campuses is especially enlightening. No less than five major universities have recently implemented some biometric solution to help authenticate a transaction. As people begin to use this technology more frequently, the acceptability and adoption rate with biometrics will continue to rise. That’s just common sense.

And all of that leads us to the familiar burning question: Why should I care? The fact is, there could be plenty in it for all of us in the security industry. As an integrator, do you have a potential biometric solution in your bag of selling solutions? Are you asking the right questions to uncover a possible biometric need? And, if you did uncover that need or find that a biometric solution could fit a customer’s security concern, would you have the ability to offer a vetted, trusted solution? Could you use another customer as a “biometric reference?” Are you comfortable in talking about the various biometric devices that are available in today’s security marketplace?

If you did not answer yes to those questions, perhaps now is the time to take a harder look at biometrics.

Ric McCullough is vice president of sales and customer service for PSA Security Network. To request more information about PSA, visit