What Is Biometrics?

By Jason Chavis
What Is Biometrics?
JMPerez, Wikimedia Commons

Biometrics is a form of recognition and identity confirmation that uses physical attributes of an individual that are impossible or at least hard to mask. Common forms of biometrics include facial recognition, fingerprinting, retinal scans and DNA analysis. While previously cost prohibitive, concerns over terrorism and security have made many world governments and private organizations implement the technology at least on a limited scale.


When determining which biometrics to use in studying a person, the important fact is that the tool needs to be used to identify and verify an individual. This can be accomplished using a unique feature of an individual that is permanent and easy to collect.


In order for a biometric verification to be implemented, the performance of the tool needs to be verified as well. If a certain identification procedure has a high volume of failure in identification, the process should not be implemented as a sustainable solution.


One of the overarching concerns regarding biometrics is whether they can be stored securely. Identity theft has made many countries create laws regarding the storage of biometric data.


There is also concern from civil rights organizations as to whether biometrics can be used in some sort of discriminatory fashion. Since many ethnic groups and nationalities share common physical features, it is possible for systematic discrimination to take place (see Resources).


The United States has implemented a number of programs designed to catalog and use biometric data. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for example, implemented programs to identify individuals against databases using facial recognition software. This can be used in large-scale operations such as sporting events to target specific people.

About the Author

Jason Chavis has been a professional freelance writer since 1998. He is the author of four books, two movies and a play as well as numerous articles for "Scientific American," The History Channel, City Pages and "The Onion." In 1996, Chavis won the award for "best science fiction/fantasy" from the River Valley Writer’s Conference.