Biometric systems that are designed to automatically recognize individuals based on biological and behavioral traits such as fingerprints, palm prints or voice or face recognition are “inherently fallible” and no single trait has been identified that is stable and distinctive across all groups, according to a report issued Sept. 24, 2010 by the National Research Council.. The council advises that additional research is needed at virtually all levels of design and operation to strengthen the science and improve the system effectiveness of biometrics.

The systems provide “probabilistic results,” meaning that confidence in results must be tempered by an understanding of the inherent uncertainty in any given system, the report says. The report identifies numerous sources of uncertainty in the systems that need to be considered in system design and ­operation.

“For nearly 50 years, the promise of biometrics has outpaced the application of the technology,” says Joseph N. Pato, chair of the committee that wrote the report and distinguished technologist at Hewlett-Packard's HP Laboratories, Palo Alto, Calif. “While some biometric systems can be effective for specific tasks, they are not nearly as infallible as their depiction in popular culture might suggest.”

Copies of “Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities” are available at

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