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What are Biometric Devices?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 21, 2024
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Biometrics allow people to be identified based on unique characteristics. Examples include fingerprint scans, iris scans, and voice recognition. Biometric devices utilize technology to capture and process this type of information. Such devices may be found at airports, government buildings, and law enforcement agencies.

Biometric devices normally capture information about a person the first time she uses it. That information is linked to her and other information may be linked it, creating a file. For example, a person may need to enter a premises that grants access upon fingerprint verification. The first time, the person’s fingerprint will be recorded and attached to her name and photo. It is also possible that other information, such as the make, model, and registration number of her vehicle, can be linked to that fingerprint.

The two primary uses for biometric devices are identification and verification. These may sound as if they are the same but they can actually be very different. A facial recognition device may be used to identify a person who enters a building and is granted an access pass. The captured information may only be useful thereafter if it is necessary to identify who the access pass was given to. If that person ever returns, he may be subjected to the same process again.

Verification generally involves reidentifying someone using a biometric device. An example of such a case would be an iris scan that grants access to classified areas in a building. In this case, a person will use the device numerous times to confirm her identity and deem her qualified for entry.

There are many important factors to be considered with biometric devices. One, which leads to the use of these devices being controversial, is security. Many people have argued against using biometric devices because the information captured is so sensitive. If it is not properly protected and is accessed by people with bad intentions, a great deal of harm can be done.

Accuracy is also important. This is one area, however, that can present challenges to the use of biometric devices. Many are designed to capture a person’s characteristics exactly as they are without the ability to allow for potential changes. If, for example, a facial recognition system is used and a person is in an accident that damages his face, serious problems can arise. It may be difficult or impossible to get the system to accept the change.

Capacity is another issue. Biometric devices are generally linked to some type of storage mechanism that stores the captured data. These usually have limits. It is important for sufficient storage space to be considered when plans are made to utilize biometric devices. How long a person’s information is stored generally depends on the design of the system.

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Discussion Comments

By anon141574 — On Jan 10, 2011

I'm confused. i have to research biometric devices that have the possibility to be implanted after birth in newborns. I believe that it is absolutely horrible, but I have to look at it from both angles and need more information on it. I'm not sure if this is the place for questions, but I'm desperate.

By anon116071 — On Oct 05, 2010

I have not had any problems with biometric devices. I am researching this item for a paper, and looking at this website I am finding that they're used for many more purposes than just for passwords. Thanks!

By Fiorite — On Sep 22, 2010

@ aplenty and PelesTears- I would have to agree a little with the both of you. I think that biometric security devices can be a good thing for the government, the private sector, and consumers, but they are only as useful as the other security features used in conjunction with the devices.

If you are not vigilant about internet security and you use biometric devices, you may be opening yourself up to invasion of privacy and sophisticated identity theft (spies are real...see Russian spy ring in Manhattan). On the other hand, if you use all of your security features in conjunction with one another, and practice proper document disposal, you can create a very secure identity. Most people who are victim to identity theft, whether it be by illegal immigrants, drug cartels, or thieves, are careless with their personal information and are not mindful of their digital footprint.

By PelesTears — On Sep 22, 2010

@ aplenty- I think that biometric fingerprint devices are a novel idea, but I would have to question the security of a personal computer. I see so many sophisticated internet scams that I would worry that someone could steal my fingerprints and use them for criminal endeavors. Biometric features are features that are unique to me, and I would worry that the collection of that information could be used to violate my privacy.

I know I may sound a little paranoid (borderline conspiracy theorist maybe), but internet thieves are getting more and more creative by the minute. If you don't believe me, look at the recent twitter security breach where people were infected with a computer virus by simply mousing over an advertisement. Look at how often your security software updates on your computer. My security software is installing new virus updates daily, sometimes more than once a day. I almost feel like people are too willing to compromise their identity for trivial technologies.

By aplenty — On Sep 22, 2010

I just bought a new laptop to replace a water-damaged laptop that I had previously, and it came with a biometric fingerprint reader. I was not very partial to the idea before buying the laptop, but I love it now that I have it.

Once I set my fingerprints, I was able to store all of my passwords and screen names to my fingerprint. The scanner makes it easy to sign into my PC and gives me an added level of security. I can use very complicated case sensitive, alpha-numeric passwords that I would have never been able to memorize before. I still write the passwords down for the sake of redundancy, but I simply leave them in my safe. If someone were to steal my laptop, it would be virtually useless to anyone but me, and all of my information would be secure. This has to be one of the best security/convenience features on newer laptops.

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