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Biometric Standards Program and Resource Center


This page is no longer maintained.  It is provided for historical information. 

To learn about our current work, visit the Biometrics Program page.


Summary:  Supporting the national strategy on biometrics and the development of required biometric standards is the cornerstone of our program. We seek to help the U.S. government and private sector meet their needs for high performance/highly secure interoperable biometric-based personal authentication systems. We work in close partnership with our customers to develop formal national and international biometric standards of high relevance to the Nation. With the emphasis in supporting current and future conformity assessment efforts we are also developing conformance test architectures and test tools for selected biometric technical interfaces and data interchange formats. This program is a major catalyst for biometric standardization and adoption of biometric standards.

Biometric technologies are used to establish or verify personal identity against previously enrolled individuals based upon recognition of a physiological or behavioral characteristic. Examples of biological characteristics include hand, finger, facial, and iris. Behavioral characteristics are traits that are learned or acquired, such as dynamic signature verification and keystroke dynamics. Using biometrics for identifying human beings offers some unique advantages because only biometrics can identify you as you. Used alone, or together with other authentication technologies such as tokens biometric technologies can provide higher degrees of security than other technologies employed alone. For decades, biometric technologies were used primarily in law enforcement applications, and they are still a key component of these important applications. Over the past several years, the marketplace for biometrics solutions has widened significantly and includes public and private sector applications worldwide.

The success of biometric applications is particularly dependent on the interoperability of biometric systems. Deploying these systems requires both national and international biometric standards. Our program supports the development of open system standards for biometrics and promotes United States innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology. Although a number of standards have been developed, innovations in biometrics technologies and personal recognition systems and new customer's needs are leading to the development of other standards to add technical functionality to the published standards, and to reflect these technology innovations and new customers' needs. In the biometric arena, NIST stands alone as an impartial developer of standards and it is considered a leading testing organization. NIST/ITL is currently involved in many capacities related to personal authentication activities (technology research, metrology, and standardization). Under this program, we work in close partnership with other NIST/ITL experts, managers and experts from other U.S. Government agencies and other users, industry and academic institutions to support development of formal national1 and international biometric standards2 of high relevance to the Nation.

Base standards, such as biometric data interchange formats and technical interface standards do not usually contain the conditions to demonstrate that products meet the technical requirements specified in the standards. Conformance testing captures the technical description of a specification and measures whether an implementation faithfully implements the specification. We support the development of biometric conformance testing methodology standards and other conformity assessment efforts through active technical participation in the development of these standards, sponsorship of specific biometric conformance testing methodology standards and the development of associated conformance test architectures and associated test tools. We develop these architectures and conformance test tools to support users that require conformance to selected biometric standards and to support product developers and testing laboratories interested in conforming to biometric standards by using the same testing tools available to users.

We are responding to government, industry and market requirements for open systems standards by:

  • leading and participating in the development of formal national and international biometric standards
  • promoting and supporting associated conformity assessment efforts
  • educating users on the capability of standards-based open-systems solutions
  • promoting standards adoption
  • developing conformance test architectures and test tools for biometric technical interfaces and data interchange formats that our customers can use to test implementations of these standards
  • supporting harmonization of biometric, tokens and security standards
  • addressing the use of biometric-based solutions for ID Management applications
  • leading and participating in major outreach efforts

1 - In late 2001, we helped to establish Technical Committee M1 – Biometrics under the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). NIST/ITL/CSD provides the Chair of INCITS M1 and participates in the development of its standards.

2 - In 2002, we successfully supported the establishment of Subcommittee 37 - Biometrics under the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (ISO/IEC JTC 1). NIST/ITL/CSD provides the Chair of SC37, NIST/ITL provides a member of the staff to serve as the Chair of one of its six Working Groups, and NIST/ITL/IAD provides technical editors supporting the development of some of the JTC 1/SC 37 projects.

Major Accomplishments

Since these national and international standards bodies were established, the first generation of biometric standards has been developed. To date twenty American National Standards and twenty-five international standards have been published. They include biometric technical interface standards, data interchange formats for a number of biometric modalities, biometric performance testing methodology standards and conformance testing methodology standards. Four international technical reports have also been published.

Large organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (for Machine Readable Travel Documents), the International Labour Office of the United Nations (for the Seafarers Identification Credential program) as well as the European Union (EU) have published requirements that include the use of a number of these international biometric standards. In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and several other large organizations require selected biometric standards developed by these standards bodies. The Personal Identity Verification (PIV) specification (NIST SP 800-76-1) includes conformance requirements to several of these standards and the "Registry of USG Recommended Biometric Standards" published in June 2008 by the National Science and Technology Council recommends a number of these standards as well.

Research and development of associated testing technology in support of conformity assessment efforts is ongoing. To date we have released a Conformance Test Suite (CTS) that helps users test implementations of the Biometric Application Programming Interface specified in ANSI INCITS 358-2002, the BioAPI specification. This software tool was developed to help users verify the conformance of Biometric Service Providers to ANSI INCITS 358-2002, the BioAPI Specification 1.1. This tool and associated documentation can be found at:

In August 2008 we released a conformance testing architecture that supports Biometric Information Records and a Conformance Test Suite (CTS) for Patron Format A data structures specified in ANSI INCITS 398-2008, Information technology - Common Biometric Exchange Formats Framework. The software and documentation can be found at The CTS for Patron Format A was developed to help users determine whether binary file implementations of Biometric Information Records (BIRs) based on this Patron Format conform or not to the standard.

An advanced conformance testing architecture is currently being developed. This architecture supports conformance test tools to test implementations of biometric data interchange formats as well as the three components of Biometric Information Records specified in both national and international standards. The Architecture supports local and web service controllers.

Some of the key improvements that have been researched and implemented in this architecture include:

  • Independent architecture components – each can be independently developed & tested.
  • Dynamically-Loaded CTS Modules – Modules automatically loaded at runtime.
  • XML Manifests: define the format to which the binary data is expected to conform.
  • Test Logs (XML) & Test Reports (HTML).

Pre-Release testing of the Beta v2.0 architecture and four CTS modules in underway.

We contribute to major biometric outreach efforts: We maintain the Biometric Resource Center which is a web page that provides information and links to all NIST/ITL biometric research, testing and standards activities as well as the web site which is the central source of information on the U.S. Federal government's biometrics-related activities, the Biometric Catalog web site, which is a free to use, U.S. government sponsored, database of public information about biometrics and the Biometric Consortium (BC) web site. The Biometric Consortium serves as a focal point for research, development, testing, evaluation, and application of biometric-based personal identification/verification technology. Currently, the BC's primary function is to organize and host an annual conference, which enables U.S. government participants and industry to engage in exchanges with national and international participants.

The Biometric Consortium Conference and co-located Biometric Technology Expo is one of the world's premiere gatherings on biometrics. The BC anticipates attendees to its conferences from Federal, State, and Local governments, industry, and academia, including chief executives of private industry including many biometric companies, senior military leaders, and senior executives from dozens of federal government organizations. In 2008 the conference had over 1,800 participants, 40+ federal agencies, 17 state & local agencies, 27 academic institutions, industry professionals and national laboratories. The 2008 conference offered over 100 speakers, side sessions focusing on special topics and featured a Biometrics Research Symposium offering attendees an international forum for the dissemination and exchange of basic and applied scholarly research leading to applications of biometrics to human identification and verification. That function will be fulfilled by the IEEE Conference on Biometrics, Identity and Security (BIdS) this year.

Created June 18, 2009, Updated June 4, 2020