Is it really you?

Fast, accurate, and secure. These are the criterion that continue to challenge the developing world of biometrics. And this is a good thing. All of us are aware these days of the risk of identity theft, the huge increase in financial fraud via cloned ATM cards, and, of course, the continuing malevolence of international terrorism. Biometrics undoubtedly has what it takes to help control these modern life situations.

Because fingerprints and iris patterns can't be lost, stolen, or cloned, it's understandable that governments are fully supporting the development of biometrics-related technology. Here in the U.K. a huge debate thunders on about a National Identification Card scheme that will, despite the protestations of woolly-minded liberals and the protect-peoples'-rights brigade, be introduced. After all, biometric passports are now a reality, and what are they if not a form of biometric identification document?

For the electronics industry, the adoption of biometrics clearly represents a sizable commercial opportunity. Early problems with unreliable sensing components used to read fingerprints have been overcome thanks to RF-based sensing techniques that look beneath the skin's surface to scan the print. In this way, skin conditions that once created opportunities for biometric error have been resolved.

There's no doubt that the electronics industry is taking this market opportunity seriously. For example, ST Microelectronics just released details of a dual-interface secure microcontroller that's designed for e-Passport, ID card, and related applications. The dual interface allows for operation in both touch and contact-less systems thanks to a high-speed, 848kbit/s RFID interface.

The device complies with International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements, a fact that was tested and confirmed at the recently staged e-Passport Interoperability Test Event in Berlin, Germany. It also demonstrated a transaction time for a typical e-Passport application that was less than three seconds. That should cut queuing times at Passport Control when the 555-seater Airbus A380s start service.

Because it includes a 1088bit Modular Arithmetic Processor for public-key cryptography and Advanced Encryption Services software-library capability, it's well-suited to the advanced encryption/decryption functions that are essential for storing personal data records.

Not surprisingly, ST is involved in many government-sponsored, biometric-related programs worldwide. They include the Juki card program in Japan, the Indian driving-license scheme, the French health-card scheme, and ID cards in Italy, Spain, Malaysia, and Thailand.

It's true to say, then, that the biometric business opportunity has been well and truly identified.

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