August 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio August 2003 Current Issue
August 2003 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

Iris and fingerprint scanning are coming to the home and office

We’ve all seen those futuristic movies where an elaborate security system using voice recognition, iris scanning or fingerprint identification plays a role. Such systems, called biometrics, are now coming to a PC or network near you. Biometrics, defined as measurable physical characteristics or personal behavior traits used to recognize an individual’s identity, have been researched for many years. One of the first times you might encounter these technologies is when going through customs at major airports such as JFK, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (part of the Department of Homeland Security) has deployed the INS Passenger Accelerated Service System (INSPASS), which uses a digital photograph and hand geometry to speed you through customs.

Passengers insert their INSPASS card in a reader and place their hand on a scanner, which matches the print to the one on file. For details, go to

As we wade deeper into the digital world, many of us are placing sensitive information on our PCs at home and at work. To protect files from unauthorized access, one of the least expensive biometric tools is the fingerprint scanner. Recognition cards and software cost less than $200.

For example, with the Windows XP operating system’s sign-on process, users can set up separate identities on one PC; each user has access only to his personal files if the security is set up properly and does not allow files to be shared.

Once a user’s fingerprint is tied to his user profile, he accesses his files by placing his finger on the electronic reader pad and is logged in. If he tries to switch users without borrowing someone else’s finger he will not be allowed in.

In the workplace, there’s no more need to remember passwords when you move from machine to machine; simply place your finger on the pad and you’re logged on.

Affordable cards ($150 to $250) are available from Targus (

Also becoming more affordable these days is iris recognition. More accurate and less invasive than retina scanning, iris recognition also is more unique one developer puts the odds of finding a match at 1 in 10 to the 78th power (a very big number). Iris scanners, accurate from a distance of 20 inches, can be attached to a PC via a USB port.

Two providers of scanners and software are Iridian Technologies ( and Panasonic ( The devices are about the size of a small video camera and cost approximately $250.

While fingerprinting is probably the easiest and least intrusive, iris scanning will provide a higher level of security. Both processes are easy to set up and deploy. Voice verification technology is another approach; however, computers take a while to “learn” users’ voice patterns, and the level of security is not as high.

Also note that scanning is less expensive than voice verification and requires minimal technical expertise to run.

Both fingerprint and iris-scanning could be deployed to identify attendees. The difficulty would be getting everyone set up initially. However, once that hurdle is overcome, you don’t have to reissue cards fingers and eyes don’t get lost too often, and we certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to pass them on to other attendees.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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