Current Affairs

Biometrics History

The term “biometrics” is derived from the Greek words “bio” (life) and “metrics” (to measure). Automated biometric systems have only become available over the last few decades, due to significant advances in the field of computer processing. Many of these new automated techniques, however, are based on ideas that were originally conceived hundreds, even thousands of years ago. One of the oldest and most basic examples of a characteristic that is used for recognition by humans is the face. Since the beginning of civilization, humans have used faces to identify known (familiar) and unknown (unfamiliar) individuals.

This simple task became increasingly more challenging as populations increased and as more convenient methods of travel introduced many new individuals into- once small communities. The concept of humanto-human recognition is also seen in behavioral-predominant biometrics such as speaker and gait recognition. Individuals use these characteristics, somewhat unconsciously, to recognize known individuals on a day-to-day basis. Other characteristics have also been used throughout the history of civilization as a more formal means of recognition.

Some examples are: 

  • In a cave estimated to be at least 31,000 years old, the walls are adorned with paintings believed to be created by prehistoric men who lived there. Surrounding these paintings are numerous handprints that are felt to “have…acted as an un-forgeable signature” of its originator. 
  • There is also evidence that fingerprints were used as a person’s mark as early as 500 B.C. “Babylonian business transactions are recorded in clay tablets that include fingerprints.” 
  • Joao de Barros, a Spanish explorer and writer, wrote that early Chinese merchants used fingerprints to settle business transactions. Chinese parents also used fingerprints and footprints to differentiate children from one another. 
  • In early Egyptian history, traders were identified by their physical descriptors to differentiate between  trusted traders of known reputation and previous successful transactions, and those new to the market
By the mid-1800s, with the rapid growth of cities due to the industrial revolution and more productive farming, there was a formally recognized need to identify people. Merchants and authorities were faced with increasingly larger and more mobile populations and could no longer rely solely on their own experiences and local knowledge. Influenced by the writings of Jeremy Betham and other Utilitarian thinkers, the courts of this period began to codify concepts of justice that endure with us to this day. Most notably, justice systems sought to treat first time offenders more leniently and repeat offenders more harshly. This created a need for a formal system that recorded offenses along with measured identity traits of the offender. The first of two approaches was the Bertillon system of measuring various body dimensions, which originated in France. These measurements were written on cards that could be sorted by height, arm length or any other parameter. This field was called anthropometrics. The other approach was the formal use of fingerprints by police departments. This process emerged in South America, Asia, and Europe. By the late 1800s a method was developed to index fingerprints that provided the ability to retrieve records as Bertillon’s method did but that was based on a more individualized metric – fingerprint patterns and ridges. The first such robust system for indexing fingerprints was developed in India by Azizul Haque for Edward Henry, Inspector General of Police, Bengal, India. This system, called the Henry System, and variations on it are still in use for classifying fingerprints
True biometric systems began to emerge in the latter half of the twentieth century, coinciding with the emergence of computer systems. The nascent field experienced an explosion of activity in the 1990s and began to surface in everyday applications in the early 2000s.
  • 1858 First systematic capture of hand images for identification purposes is recorded 
  • 1870 Bertillon develops anthropometrics to identify individuals 
  • 1892 Galton develops a classification system for fingerprints 
  • 1894 The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson is published 
  • 1896 Henry develops a fingerprint classification system 
  • 1903 NY State Prisons begins using fingerprints 
  • 1903 Bertillon System collapses 
  • 1936 Concept of using the iris pattern for identification is proposed 
  • 1960s Face recognition becomes semi-automated 
  • 1960 First model of acoustic speech production is created 
  • 1963 Hughes research paper on fingerprint automation published 
  • 1965 Automated signature recognition research begins 
  • 1969 FBI pushes to make fingerprint recognition an automated process 
  • 1970s Face Recognition takes another step towards automation 
  • 1970 Behavioral components of speech are first modeled 
  • 1974 First commercial hand geometry systems become available 
  • 1975 FBI funds development of sensors and minutiae extracting technology  
  • 1976 First prototype system for speaker recognition is developed 
  • 1977 Patent is awarded for acquisition of dynamic signature information 
  • 1980s NIST Speech Group is established 
  • 1985 Concept that no two irides are alike is proposed 
  • 1985 Patent for hand identification is awarded 
  • 1986 Exchange of fingerprint minutiae data standard is published 
  • 1987 Patent stating that the iris can be used for identification is awarded 
  • 1988 First semi-automated facial recognition system is deployed 
  • 1988 Eigenface technique is developed for face recognition 
  • 1991 Face detection is pioneered, making real time face recognition possible 
  • 1992 Biometric Consortium is established within US Government 
  • 1993 Development of an iris prototype unit begins 
  • 1993 FacE REcognition Technology (FERET) program is initiated 
  • 1994 First iris recognition algorithm is patented 
  • 1994 Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) competition is held 1994 Palm System is benchmarked 
  • 1994 INSPASS is implemented 
  • 1995 Iris prototype becomes available as a commercial product 
  • 1996 Hand geometry is implemented at the Olympic Games 
  • 1996 NIST begins hosting annual speaker recognition evaluations 
  • 1997 First commercial, generic biometric interoperability standard is published 
  • 1998 FBI launches CODIS (DNA forensic database) 
  • 1999 Study on the compatibility of biometrics and machine readable travel documents is launched 
  • 1999 FBI’s IAFIS major components become operational 
  • 2000 First Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT 2000) is held 2000 First research paper describing the use of vascular patterns for recognition is published 2000 West Virginia University biometrics degree program is established 
  • 2001 Face recognition is used at the Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida 2002 ISO/IEC standards subcommittee on biometrics is established 
  • 2002 M1 Technical Committee on Biometrics is formed 2002 Palm Print Staff Paper is submitted to Identification Services Committee 
  • 2003 Formal US Government coordination of biometric activities begins 2003 ICAO adopts blueprint to integrate biometrics into machine readable travel documents 
  • 2003 European Biometrics Forum is established 
  • 2004 US-VISIT program becomes operational 2004 DOD implements ABIS 2004 Presidential directive calls for mandatory government-wide personal identification card for all federal employees and contractors 
  • 2004 First statewide automated palm print database is deployed in the US 2004 Face Recognition Grand Challenge begins 
  • 2005 US patent on iris recognition concept expires 
  • 2005 Iris on the Move™ is announced at Biometrics Consortium Conference 

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