On the cards

A UK biometrics specialist has developed technology it claims could remove key practical and social obstacles to a national ID scheme.

Surrey University spin-out OmniPerception said its system allows highly accurate biometric data to be stored and verified by smart ID cards, removing the need for a gigantic national database.

Biometrics hit the headlines this week when the Home Office announced a six-month trial to evaluate three technologies for use on a future national identity card scheme. The government will test fingerprints, iris pattern and facial recognition as methods of checking identity.

One of the major practical and political drawbacks of a national IDsystem is the potential need to build a huge database to store the biometric data of tens of millions of people.

OmniPerception has developed a system called ‘match-on-card’ that allows the ID card itself to contain the algorithms needed to verify that it is being held by its correct owner. This allows a facial snapshot or fingerprint taken on the spot to be compared to the biometric embedded on the card’s microchip.

There is no need to link to a central database, removing the problems caused by a breakdown in communications links, said OmniPerception director Martyn Gates.

‘It also addresses the most common civil liberties concern about huge databases of private information,’ said Gates. ‘The information is held in your own personal card. It simply gives someone a yes or no answer when they check whether you are the authorised holder of the card.’

OmniPerception is commercialising facial biometric technology developed by the head of the University of Surrey’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal processing, Professor Josef Kittler.

Gates said the company is in discussions with the Home Office over its possible applications in the UK, and the technology is being tested for use in border control checks by a foreign government.News that the government is pressing ahead with the ID card tests was welcomed by the biometrics community.

Dr. Tony Mansfield, principal research scientist at the National Physical Laboratory and a specialist in biometrics, said the technology had evolved to the point where it was capable of delivering what was required.

However, the pilot scheme would need to ensure that any nationalsystem could deal with ‘exceptions’ – instances in which an individual is unable to deliver a particular biometric due to, for example, disability.

There are also issues over the best way to ‘enrol’ people to the system, record the biometric data for storage.

‘These are some of the factors the trial may be able to get to thebottom of,’ said Mansfield.

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