The increased need for security, for example in airports, has furthered the cause for biometric authentification.

The term biometrics comes from the ancient Greek; bios meaning life, metron meaning measure.

Biometric authentication refers to technologies that measure and analyze human physical and behavioural characteristics for identification purposes.

Examples of physical characteristics include fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, facial patterns and hand measurements, while examples of mostly behavioural characteristics include signature, gait and typing patterns. Voice is considered a mix of both physical and behavioural characteristics, although it can be argued that all biometric traits share physical and behavioural aspects.

As with all new technologies, there are risks and uncertainties associated with biometric identity. Will it be reliable, user friendly and safe?

Faced with the introduction of e-passports incorporating facial biometrics, ID card schemes which will require citizens to enrol facial, fingerprint and iris biometrics, all of which will be stored in a National Identity Register, what problems might we encounter?

Whilst Government has claimed that the benefits include prevention of terrorism and crime, reduction of illegal immigration, benefit fraud and NHS tourism, critics of the scheme claim that biometrics do not work sufficiently well and expose citizens to a greater, not lesser, risk of identity fraud.

Biometrics expert, Professor Angela Sasse, will give a frank and well informed account of what is possible, impossible and likely on Thursday September 7 at the BA Festival of Science Engineering Section, 2006.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. M. Angela Sasse is the Professor of Human-Centred Technology in the Department of Computer Science at University College London. With a background in Human-Computer Interaction, she has been carrying out research since 1996 to develop a user-centred perspective on security, privacy and trust. She has investigated usability and effectiveness of a number of security mechanisms, including passwords and biometrics.

    She contributed to BIOVISION, the EU Roadmap project on biometrics, and conducted a usability and user acceptance study as part of a biometrics field trial with 2000 volunteers commissioned by the German Federal Office for information security. In 2004, she was appointed a Specialist Advisor to the Home Affairs Committee for its enquiry into the proposed introduction of ID cards in 2004, and currently serves on the Biometrics Advisory Group, an independent expert panel that advises the Home Office.
  3. The BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) is the UK’s nationwide, open membership organisation that exists to advance the public understanding, accessibility and accountability of the sciences and engineering. Established in 1831, the BA organises major initiatives across the UK, including the annual BA Festival of Science, National Science Week, programmes of regional and local events, and an extensive programme for young people in schools and colleges.
  4. The BA Festival of Science will be in Norwich from 2-9 September, bringing over 300 of the UK’s top scientists and engineers to discuss the latest developments in science with the public. In addition to talks and debates at the University of East Anglia, there will be a host of events throughout the city of Norwich as part of the Science in the City programme.
  5. The Engineering Section ‘Mission Impossible?’ takes place on Thursday 7 September, John Innes Conference Centre, Norwich Research Park. Exhibition opens at 11.00, lunch at 13.00, talks from14.00.
  6. For information on the full programme and how to register, call the Festival hotline on 020 7019 4963

For more information please contact

Dr Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering
Lisa Hendry at the BA, tel: 020 7019 4946