Brain scanning may be used in security checks
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 May 2009 23.12 BST
Distinctive brain patterns could become the latest subject of biometric scanning after EU researchers successfully tested technology to verify identities for security checks.
The experiments, which also examined the potential of heart rhythms to authenticate individuals, were conducted under an EU-funded inquiry into biometric systems that could be deployed at airports, borders and in sensitive locations to screen out terrorist suspects.
Another series of tests fitted a "sensing seat" to a truck to record each driver's characteristic seated posture in an attempt to spot whether commercial vehicles had been hijacked.
Details of the Humabio (Human Monitoring and Authentication using Biodynamic Indicators and Behaviourial Analysis) pilot projects have been published amid further evidence of biometric technologies penetrating everyday lives.
The Foreign Office plans to spend up to £15m on fixed and mobile security devices that use methods including "Facial recognition (two and/or three dimensional), fingerprint recognition, iris recognition and vein imaging palm recognition".
The biometric sensors and systems, it appears, will primarily be deployed to protect UK embassies around the world. The contract, about which the FCO declined to elaborate further, also mentions "surveillance" and "data collection" services.
The Home Office, meanwhile, has confirmed rapid expansion plans of automated facial recognition gates: 10 will be operating at major UK airports by August.
Passengers holding the latest generation of passports travelling through Manchester and Stansted are already being checked by facial-recognition cameras.
Biometric identity checks are also becoming more common in the world of commercial gadgets. New versions of computer laptops and mobile phones are entering the market with built-in fingerprint scanners to prevent other people running up large bills and misusing pilfered hi-tech equipment.
Among security experts there is a preference for developing biometric security devices that do not rely on measuring solely one physiological trait: offering choice makes scanning appear less intrusive and allows for double-checking.
The holy grail of the biometrics industry is a scanning mechanism that is socially acceptable in an era of mass transit and 100 per cent accurate. Researchers are eager to produce 'non-contact' biometric systems that can check any individuals identity at a distance.
The US government's secretive IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity) is seeking development proposals to enhance such technologies. Insisting that it is not interested in 'contact-type' biometrics, it asks for ideas that will "significantly advance the intelligence community's ability to achieve high-confidence match performance ... [for] high fidelity biometric signatures".
The Humabio project, based in Greece, is involved more in blue-sky scientific thinking than in intelligence work. Its research, highlighted in the latest issue of Biometric Technology Today, is at a "pre-commercial, proof-of-concept stage".