Biometric Information Services


Biometrics and the IAI

What is biometrics?

Biometrics is a noun that refers to the measurement and analysis of attributes of living things. The term “biometrics” has been historically used to refer to the application of statistics to a wide range of topics in medicine and agriculture, among other fields. The application of biometrics is critical in public health clinical trials and linking DNA gene alleles to diseases statistically. Since the 1990s it also become associated with automated ways to measure attributes of people to see if they have been encountered previously. Automated biometrics really started in the 1960s with some patented ideas and a few prototype systems. The best example might be Mitchell Trauring's article in Nature entitled Automatic Comparison of Finger-Ridge Patterns. This article in March of 1963 was in the same Journal that published Galton, Herschel, and Faulds in the 1880s. By the 1970s Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) systems provided automated ways to compare attributes extracted from images of friction ridge samples. The AFIS could then provide examiners with lists of candidates for further examination.

In general the attributes that are most frequently used in biometric services are fingerprints, palmprints, faces, irises, hand geometry (shape), blood veins in the back of the hand, and voices. These attributes can be as simple as minutiae location and orientation in a finger or palm print or as complex as a mathematical function applied to iris images.

Biometric services are not experts that can go to court and testify as to an identity nor are they likely to be for many years. Even then an appropriately trained expert would have to testify as to the circumstances, calibration, results, and process employed in the biometric-based decision just as a police officer would when presenting radar speed data in traffic court. Biometric services are used for access control to computers and facilities (e.g., Disney World in Orlando uses multispectral fingerprint imaging and matching to verify that ticket holders are ticket owners). Voice biometrics are sometimes used to verify account holders over the telephone. These are not forensic uses and are not within the scope of this subcommittee's interests.

Biometric services are being used successfully around the world to support identification experts as they search larger and ever larger repositories of known biometric exemplars (e.g., facial image reference files). Some biometrics, such as speaker and facial recognition, are used more for investigatory support than prosecutorial support. Additionally they are used in a significant number of countries to assist in border crossing control via automated biometric gates. While this large-scale use is primarily focused on access control, these services can have a forensic side. Fingerprints and facial images collected at the time of fraudulent use of a passport or visa can be used as evidence in a court. Some border control agencies also compare these biometric samples to latent fingerprints and wanted person facial images, as appropriate. These are also forensic in nature and of interest to the subcommittee.

Subcommittee 37 of the International Organization for Standardization, also known as ISO SC37, has defined biometric as an adjective meaning “of or having to do with biometrics”, while defining biometrics is a noun meaning “automated recognition of individuals based on their behavioural (sic) and biological characteristics”. They further restrict “individuals” to humans. We know that the human subject of a biometric measurement can be either alive or deceased. For the complete list of biometric terms defined by ISO Subcommittee 37 see their web site

For a more formal definition of biometrics, we can turn to a 2010 US National Research Council report Biometric Recognition Challenges and Opportunities, which opens with a brief technical introduction to Biometrics:

Biometrics is the automated recognition of individuals based on their behavioral and biological characteristics. It is a tool for establishing confidence that one is dealing with individuals who are already known (or not known)—and consequently that they belong to a group with certain rights (or to a group to be denied certain privileges). It relies on the presumption that individuals are physically and behaviorally distinctive in a number of ways.
Biometric services are used increasingly to recognize individuals and regulate access to physical spaces, information, services, and to other rights or benefits, including the ability to cross international borders. The motivations for using biometrics are diverse and often overlap. They include improving the convenience and efficiency of routine access transactions, reducing fraud, and enhancing public safety and national security. Questions persist, however, about the effectiveness of biometric services as security or surveillance mechanisms, their usability and manageability, appropriateness in widely varying contexts, social impacts, effects on privacy, and legal and policy implications. The full report is available on line at

The behavioral and biological characteristics mentioned in the definition of biometrics are referred to as modalities. The most frequently used modalities of interest to the forensic community include facial recognition, speaker recognition, friction ridge matching (already a foundation forensic science), and iris matching. The subcommittee is open to discussions on any and all biometrics.

1. Why is the IAI involved with biometrics?

Starting in 2009 the IAI expanded the mission of the AFIS Committee to include the broader elements of the field of biometrics and renamed it the Biometrics Committee. To address this growing area of interest and opportunity in the forensic community in 2010 the Biometrics Committee was renamed the Biometrics Information System Subcommittee. The IAI wants to provide leadership for our members in tracking, influencing policy in the use of, and explaining biometrics to the broader membership. The IAI believes that while not yet a forensic discipline, biometrics is likely to offer assistance to forensic examiners. As time goes on and more agencies and departments offer biometric services, biometrics will permit more and more examiners to perform automated and semi-automated searches against larger facial, voice, and iris reference files to narrow down a set of candidates for forensic examination just as AFIS systems have permitted fingerprint examiners to do for about 30 years. Traditionally the IAI has been a central clearinghouse for automated biometrics in the friction ridge discipline and now that agencies and departments are expanding their biometric horizons the IAI plans to be there with them.

2. What is the IAI Biometrics Identification Services Subcommittee, its mission and goals?

The IAI Biometrics Information services Subcommittee was formed in 2010 as a follow on to the 2009 Biometrics Committee, which in turn was the successor to the IAI's AFIS Committee of 20 plus years. The first Biometrics Committee meetings and presentations were held in 2010 in Montgomery County Maryland – as a March mid-year meeting and then at the annual IAI Conference in Spokane, Washington. At that meeting the IAI leadership voted to change the Biometrics Committee into a subcommittee of the Sciences and Practices committee. There was no mid-term meeting in 2011 but a full day of sessions was provided in a subcommittee meeting and public sessions at the 2011 IAI annual Conference in Milwaukee. The day was shared with the latent fingerprint community's presentations. In 2012, a mid-year meeting was held in Gaithersburg, MD, with a full day and a half of presentations. The annual meeting was held at the IAI Education Conference in Phoenix, AZ, with a closed sub-committee meeting in the morning, and a 2-hour open meeting in the afternoon.

Information about subcommittee activities is available at To join the group discussion, please go to and select “Join the Group”.

The current chairman of the Biometric Identification Services Subcommittee is Brian Finegold (email:


To promote the application of biometrics supporting the public services spectrum, from personal identification to criminal justice and national security, based on a set of guiding principles including interoperability, quality assurance and privacy. To be the center of excellence in the IAI community for fostering increased awareness of biometric issues impacting the civil identification, criminal justice and national security communities.


  1. Interact in a positive way with other IAI disciplines to encourage more education on and appreciation for the adoption of biometrics in appropriate cases.
  2. Encourage discussion, reporting, and practical observations on biometric science applications, status, and issues at IAI meetings and conferences to include acquisition practices, transmission standards, technology developments, legal protocols, underlying legal – science underpinnings (referred to as Daubert Criteria in the US judicial system).
  3. Produce and submit written material for publishing in the IDentification News and the Journal of Forensic Identification.
  4. Provide an on-line forum for the law enforcement forensic community to discuss biometric related issues.
  5. Encourage broad international participation from practitioners, researchers, vendors, consultants, the legal community, and other interested parties both on-line and at meetings of the full IAI, the subcommittee, and the various IAI Divisions.
  6. Cooperate with related groups; for example, FISWG (Facial Identification Scientific Working Group) for the resolution of common issues. As the SWGs migrate to the proposed Guidance Groups, the Subcommittee will consider tracking the activities of and communicating with these groups.
  7. Identify areas appropriate for the IAI to perform demonstrations (e.g., of interoperability), and participate in national and international activities, committees, and seminars. The subcommittee will be a focal point for recommending these types of actions to the Science and Practices Committee and through them to the Board of Directors.

3. How does the Biometric Information Services Subcommittee interact with other related IAI subcommittee disciplines?

Members continue to routinely participate in their primary disciplines and interests for which they joined the IAI. This subcommittee will provide cross fertilization of how emerging biometric technologies and techniques might be applicable in those domains. This integration is healthy and promotes better understanding and cooperation among IAI members. Some members volunteer to serve on the Biometric Information Services Subcommittee to assist in the sharing of information and coordination of biometric-related presentations at IAI conferences.

4. Is Biometric recognized and accredited as a discipline?


5. What certification is available for examiners in the Biometrics discipline?

None to date.

6. What are some related web links to learn more about Biometrics? (This listing is in no particular order. Some are IAI and government web sites while others are standards bodies or commercial services – none are vendors of biometric products.)

Organization Website
Acuity Biometric Market Intelligence
Australian Biometrics Institute
Biometrics Consortium
European Association for Biometrics
FBI Biometric Center of Excellence
IAI Biometric Identification Services Yahoo Group
ISO Subcommittee 37 (SC 37)
NIST Biometrics Web Site
Planet Biometrics newsletter
Scientific & Technical Working Groups
UK Biometrics Organization
UK Government Biometrics
US Defense Department’s Biometrics Identity Management Agency
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Biometrics Site