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An Introduction to Evaluating Biometric Systems



P J. Phillips, Alvin F. Martin, Charles L. Wilson, Mark A. Przybocki


How and where biometric systems are deployed will depend on their performance. Knowing what to ask and how to decipher the answers can help you evaluate the performance of these emerging technologies. On the basis of media hype alone, you might conclude that biometric passwords will soon replace their alphanumeric counterparts with versions that cannot be stolen forgoten, lost, or given to another person. But what if the performance estimates of these systems are far more impressive than their actual performance? To measure the real-life performance of biometric systems-and to understand their strengths and weaknesses better-we must understand the elements that comprise an ideal biometric system. In an ideal system. All members of the population possess the characteristic that the biometric identifies, like irises or fingerprints. Each biometric signature differs from all others in the controlled population. The biometric signatures don't vary under the conditions in which they are collected. The system resists countermeasures. Biometric-system evaluation quantifies how well biometric systems accommodate these properties. Typically, biometric evaluations require that an independent party design the evaluation, collect the test data, administer the test, and analyze the results. We designed this article to provide you with sufficient information to know what questions to ask whenevaluating a biometric system, and to assist you in determining if performance levels meet the requirements of your application. For example, if you plan to use a biometric to reduce -as opposed to eliminate-fraud, then a low-performance biometric system may be sufficient. On the other hand, completely replacing an existing security system with a biometric-based ne may require a high-performance biometric system, or the required performance may be beyond what curtent technology can provide. Here we focus on biometric applications that give the user some control over data acquisition. These applications recognize subjects from mug shots, passport photos, and scanned fingerprints. Examples not covered include recognition from surveillance photos or from latent fingerprints left at a crime scene. Of the biometrics that meet these constraints, voice, face, and fingerprint systems have undergone the most study and testing - and therefore occupy the bulk of our discussion. While iris recognition has received much attention in the media lately, few independent evaluations of its effectiveness have ben published.
IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications


biometrics, evaluation, face recognition, fingerprints, speech recognition


Phillips, P. , Martin, A. , Wilson, C. and Przybocki, M. (2000), An Introduction to Evaluating Biometric Systems, IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, [online], (Accessed June 13, 2024)


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Created February 1, 2000, Updated February 17, 2017