Felix Stalder on Wed, 21 Oct 1998 21:46:59 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> yursa mistifi / Banking through biometrics

Date: Tue, 20 Oct 1998 17:46:24 +0200
Sender: mistifi <mistifi@nirvanet.net>
From: yursa mistifi <mistifi@nirvanet.net>
To: e-money@moving-art-studio.com
Subject: tribute to the mailing-list

Banking through biometrics

Authentification techniques based on distinctive human body features are
now being tested to certify transactions. Biometrics as a field of
research is derived from artificial intelligence and measurement of
biological particularities to assume tremendous evolutions in the domain
of security. Originally developed by the army, biometric technologies
enable electronic systems to recognise a person by using her previously
digitized physical parameters. Passwords become useless because the
machine just exercises a close look on you to deny access or to let you
interact. Authentification techniques relying on biometrics also seem to
be more secure : the probability to find a password of four digits is one
out of ten thousand, the probability of confusion raising from eye
exploration is one out of ten billions. 

In Swindon, UK, the National Building Society bank has began to serve
customers with a new model of ATM (automatic teller machine) using iris
recognition. Developed in the US by NCR together with IriScan (1) and
Sensar (2), the automatic lenses of the system zoom on the characteristics
of the Iris in the customer's eyes before allowing him to withdraw
banknotes. The whole operation takes less than two seconds. Biometric
systems can identify different parts of the body : retina, shape of the
hand, fingerprints, face and voice analyses are used for recognition. Also
the characteristics of one's movements can be referred to as elements of
discrimination. The Smartpen (3) of the Dutch company LCI analyses and
compares digital signatures. It's sensors react to acceleration, speed,
force and inclination of the human hand signing a document with an error
rate satisfying the military requirements. 

Verification that the presenter of a bank card is actually the person
entitled to use it is made through automatic assessment of an unique body
feature or personal action that can be measured, digized, stored and
recalled later for comparison. In the US, Chase Manhattan bank (4) decided
to use voice verification for customer identification following a review
of several types of biometric techniques. The research found that 95% of
customers would accept voice verification, compared with 80% accepting
fingerprint. Another reason Chase Manhattan chose voice over fingerprints
was that voice works over a normal telephone whereas special readers would
have to be installed in consumers' homes for fingerprint verification.
Other banks reportedly testing or using biometric systems are Bank of
America, Citicorp, Mellon Bank, Bankers Trust, and Chevy Chase. Biometric
applications also provide powerful tools for surveillance and security in
computer controlled environments : physical access control, fraud time,
attendance recording. Research projects include contact key for cars or
automatic ticket delivery at underground stations. 

The industry is ready to look forward that the numerous possible
applications of biometrics will sooner or later become reality. The
technique has been tested, business plans are made but the human factor
remains a largely unpredictable parameter. As a matter of fact, biometrics
could deeply modify the perception that individuals have of themselves.
Because it stands for a so to say objective definition of identity,
biometrics intend to isolate the slightest difference between individuals.
Compared with the practice of entomologists at the beginning of the
century, it does not tend to classify or to group people by class or by
genre. Instead of underlining the adherence to a group, biometrics refers
to uniqueness as deriving from the irremediable singularity of each living
body. Biometric could then possibly lead to tremendous loneliness. Once
the criteria of uniqueness is not anymore dependent from social or
psychological values, a man can be considered as pure biological
determination with no respect to personal activities or subjective

Biometric systems can as well be regarded as violent considering their
lack of flexibility and adaptiveness. The submission to the identification
process puts stress on people who dread possible failures. Besides, the
penetrating look of the iris scan could be perceived as threatening to
those who believe the machine really "sees" them. As in other cases of
supposedly legitimate control of the human body (urine, hair, blood and
dna-tests), the impression prevails that individuals have no moral rights
on the definition of their identity. Scientific criteria become
predominant because they generate the objective and static data requested
for computer identification. But at the same time the possibility of
another identity, a subjective and dynamic one, is losing ground.
Biometrics definitivly shed a renewed light over Rimbaud's assertion "je
est un autre". 

(1) http://www.iriscan.com/
(2) http://www.sensar.com
(3) http://www.smartpen.net/
(4) http://www.speechtechmag.com/st08/bankhear.htm

yursa mistifi


Les faits sont faits.

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