fraud. A particular application demands not perfection but satisfactory performance justifying the additional investments needed for the biometric system. In any given case, the system designer should understand the application well enough to achieve the target performance levels.

Nevertheless, solutions to the problem of recognizing individuals have historically been very elusive, and the effort needed to develop them has consistently been underestimated. Because humans seem to recognize familiar people easily and with great accuracy, such recognition has sometimes incorrectly been perceived as an easy task. Considering that a number of governments around the world have called for the nationwide use of biometrics in delivering crucial societal functions such as passports, there is an urgent need to act. Excepting for their application in national forensic AFISs, biometric recognition systems have never been tried at such large scales nor have they dealt with the wide use of nonforensic sensitive personal information. The current performance of some biometric systems—in particular with regard to the combination of error rate, robustness, and system security—may be inadequate for large-scale applications processing millions of users at a high throughput rate.

If there is a pressing public need for these applications, and if it is determined that biometric systems and technologies are the most appropriate way to implement them, then our understanding of the underlying science and technology must be robust enough to support the applications.2 There is no substitute for realistic performance evaluations and sustained investment in research and development (R&D) to improve human recognition solutions and biometric systems.3 The rest of this chapter outlines a research agenda focusing on (1) technical and engineering considerations, (2) social challenges, and (3) broader public policy considerations. The chapter concludes with a high-level overview of what constitutes a well-designed biometric system.


In recent years several research agendas for biometric technologies and systems have set important challenges for the field.4 The issues and


The National Science Foundation Center for Identification Technology Research is one program taking an interdisciplinary approach to research related to biometrics. More information about the center is available at


Standardization efforts, discussed elsewhere in this report, can help facilitate the cycle of build-test-share for transitioning the technology from concept to business solution.


See, for example, A.K. Jain, S. Pankanti, S. Prabhakar, L. Hong, A. Ross, and J. Wayman, Biometrics: A Grand Challenge, Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Pattern

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