NEW YORK - Since Sept. 11, 2001, biometrics technology has taken center stage in the global effort to secure borders and catch terrorists.
Government projects are finally getting the green light, and that means that measures like fingerprint scans, hand geometry and retina scans will soon
become part of our everyday reality. As a result--and in spite of plenty of privacy concerns--the consumer market will soon see a flood of biometric
"The big programs are getting funded and moving forward, and that's noteworthy because if everyone is getting face-scanned and fingerprinted at the
airport, people are going to become more comfortable with the technology," says Raj Nanavati, a partner with the International Biometrics Group, a
New York-based research outfit. "That's going to make it much easier for the business sector to use biometrics."
On June 1, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded the $10 billion contract to a consortium including Accenture (nyse: ACN - news - people ),
Raytheon (nyse: RTN - news - people ), Dell (nasdaq: DELL - news - people ) and AT&T (nyse: T - news - people ) for a system dubbed U.S. Visit. The
project is charged with tracking visitors to the United States using biometric information such as fingerprints. Sometime in July, the U.S. Air
Transportation Association will begin testing its Registered Traveler project. It will use technology from Unisys (nyse: UIS - news - people ) and
Electronic Data Systems (nyse: EDS - news - people ) to let frequent fliers register their biometric information so that they can speed through
airport security checks. Also underway is the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program to distribute biometric credentials to all
airport, rail and sea transportation employees.
A lot of money is being spent on national security, but "the commercial market will be just as critical to this industry," says Frost & Sullivan
biometrics analyst Prianka Chopra. Frost & Sullivan says that while just $158 million was spent on the commercial biometrics market in 2002, that
figure should jump to $2 billion in 2006.
Evidence of this trend is already emerging. Finger scans can now be used to securely access laptops and other electronics--like an NTT DoCoMo (nyse:
DCM - news - people ) mobile phone--and even some Audi models that are now sold in Europe. The Caesar's Entertainment (nyse: CZR - news - people
)-owned Caesar's Palace casino uses hand geometry--rather like a fingerprint of an entire hand--for employee security, and the Equinox Fitness
chain's private gym E in New York City now uses a retinal scan to ensure certain exclusivity for its upscale clientele.
Now biometrics are moving beyond security even in the consumer arena. A start-up called Pay-By-Touch lets customers pay at retail locations with a
wave of their index finger. It has one pilot underway at Blockbuster (nyse: BBI - news - people ), and another set for July at a handful of Piggly
Wiggly supermarkets, a chain of 600 stores. Also in the works, it says, is a "major big-box retailer."
Shoppers sign up once, registering the image of their finger and any credit or checking accounts they wish to use. After a person is identified via
Pay-By-Touch and its IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people )-hosted database, the electronic transaction proceeds as it normally does.
The Pay-By-Touch technology serves several purposes for merchants. Blockbuster stores using it saw transaction time cut by 34%, moving long lines
faster at peak hours. It can also drive shoppers to choose cheaper payment methods, like debit cards instead of credit, to reduce transaction costs,
says Caroline McNally, chief marketing officer at Pay-By-Touch. "People tend to use the first payment option on the menu presented to them. Credit
card companies pay for that position."
Pretty crazy stuff there...
[edit on 8-7-2004 by StarChild]