Biometrics is the measurement of physiological characteristics like – but not limited to – fingerprint, iris patterns, or facial features that can be used to identify an individual. NIST has been conducting research in the area of biometrics for over 60 years, with work on fingerprint technologies for the FBI to support law enforcement and forensics dating back to the 1960s.
With the need for improved homeland security, biometrics were identified as a key enabling technology. NIST (because of its mission and track record) supports the government-wide effort to increase the collection of good quality biometrics, to see that the data collected is appropriately shared with other agencies, and to make sure biometric systems are accurate and interoperable.
NIST's biometric activities include:
research on the various biometric modalities: fingerprint, face, iris, voice, DNA, and multimodal;
standards development at the national and international level;
and technology testing and evaluation, which leads to innovation.
NIST partners with virtually every agency in the Government that uses large biometric systems to assist with their mission. This includes:
Why are biometrics important?
Biometrics are used to:
protect access to computer networks,
screen people at our borders,
and fight crime.
Biometrics are used to manage identities for:
first responders at the scene of a natural disaster,
soldiers in theater,
and police officers on the street.
Why are biometric standards important?
Standards (and their guidance), are vital for building effective biometric systems. The standards that NIST works on enable:
the open exchange of biometric data between different agencies and their biometric systems which are built by different companies;
provide guidance on how biometric systems are to be tested, and how results should be calculated and reported so that the performance of one system can be compared to the performance of another system;
define methods for assessing the quality of the biometrics that are collected;
and ensure interoperability, i.e., making sure that all biometric systems used in the government work well together.