Biometrics in Europe: Trend Report 2007

Posted on February 28th, 2007

This second trend report is based on the output from the European Biometrics Portal (EBP).

The EBP is a project initiated by and belonging to the European Commission, DG Information Society, with the purpose to create and activate a Web Portal as a focal point for information exchange, coordination and community building activities between the main biometrics actors in Europe.

The EBP principle is based on volunteer contributions of authors, working according to a “Wikipedian” spirit. After 18 months of portal operation, the main trends are highlighted here. The Portal will now continue its information mission in the framework of the European Union Joint Research Centre (JRC) after March 2007, with a new focus on government interoperability and cooperation.

Introduction to the Report.
The development of Biometrics is an outcome of globalisation, which is not only technological, but also political and economic: the world is now a global place for commerce, migrations, trusted exchanges of all kind of information and values. This creates new opportunities as well as new risks, crises, frauds, illegal traffics or even terrorism. Measures to address these new risks are also questioned, mainly regarding the balance between privacy and security.

In the present report, we pinpointed three main development areas that will focus attention in Europe during the coming years. These are:

  • Registered passengers (speeding up airport and other travel checks)
  • Fight against welfare and identity fraud (where up to € 20 billion could be saved yearly)
  • Biometrics to facilitate financial and commercial transactions

In a second section, we discuss the technological trends, regarding true single sign-on, biometric security cards, electro-physiological signal recognition, laser surface authentication, voice verification and analysis.

We briefly explore embedded biometrics, new developments in fingerprint technology, vascular pattern recognition, Iris and face recognition.

Last, we updated our 27 Member States survey (for previous developments, please refer to the June 2006 Trend report): implementations of biometrics are accelerating and enter in operational phase in several Member States, especially as from the last months of 2006.

Biometric technologies still fascinate people. Many action movies and thrillers are illustrated with a lot of technology, from iris and retinal scanners to vein recognition, 3D face and palm hand print readers. Almost constantly, the scenarios of such movies try to demonstrate the hero’s capacity to evade the most sophisticated detection methods, to authenticate in the most secret places, to succeed with fake signature, fingers or even bloodied, extracted eyeballs or face. Good or bad, humans won over machines and machines, incidentally, are unable to control processes and security according to their purpose.

Despite all the hype, biometric technologies have been slow to take off. Cost issues, instability, lack of portability, interoperability problems and multiple standards have made them a hard sell and consolidation, from demo prototypes to operational.

A part of the focus on biometrics still obviously results from Sept. 11, 2001, as an attempt to reach better security in the fight against terrorism. However the reality is both less ambitious and more tangible. Less ambitious because no biometric system will ever provide any guarantee against terrorist actions, which may be initiated at any time by legally established citizens, having all kind of legitimate documents. More tangible because convenient applications of biometrics will provide citizens with the “state of the art” best possible protection against identity fraud and will provide public authorities and enterprise a better protection against a series of abuses and fraud in daily transactional business: reducing these abuse by 70 or 80% in welfare could already save € 15 to 20 billion Euro yearly in Europe.

In that sense, we believe that biometrics may be seen as a complement to efficient citizen’s rights management, daily transaction security and authentication processes. It can never be trusted blindly, and it cannot replace case by case verification and human responsibility, otherwise both security and privacy will be deteriorated. At the contrary, decision from responsible persons must stay in place and possibilities to escalate at higher decision level must be available at any time.

Together with established success and improved application, the technology still knows many developments and evolutions. At the same time, in several domains like passport delivery (under pressure from the US-Visa waiver programme), the delivery of biometric documents is now part of a daily routine.

Full report – 39 pages – 0.4 Mb

By the European Commission