(Part IV in a series on biometrics)

We can recognize human faces and voices tremendously well. Even then, we regularly are making mistakes or are being deceived by our own senses or by others for that matter. We have our clear limitations. As a consequence this biometric capability cannot be used systematically to identify or authenticate humans other then for our own personal use in daily life.

Face recognition and voice recognition are pretty much as far as our human biometric capabilities go. For the rest all other biometrics are not usable – or even invisible – to us humans if only based on our senses. Even though we are allowed as witnesses in courts of law based on this capability we have to be very reticent as to the absolute nature of our human biometric capabilities.

We are leaving trails behind all the time though; both in the physical world and in interacting with the digital c.q. virtual world. To link this trail or specific metrics – being body based, or behavioral) to a given person is the subject of biometrics. (NB “a person” in this regard is not per definition the legal entity, see previous post. In an other post I describe 4 types of biometrics which span the physical and the digital realm.)

We basically do not see ourselves or others leaving biometric trails behind

The fact that we do not directly see the biometric trails we and others leave behind ourselves is essential in how we appreciate the biometric world around us. By and large it is oblivious to us.

We know our fingerprints are left behind when touching a surface. But except from the greasy spots on our glossy screens we are never consciously aware of them. And certainly we cannot recognize the person who has left them ourselves without the help of instruments. We are fully dependent on sensors, instruments and algorithms to “see” biometrics.

If e.g. fingerprint recognition would have been crucial for our survival somewhere along the line of our evolution things might have been different. But let’s face it: we are not geared to be conscious of or register the biometric trails we (or others) leave as this is an invisible world to us, and never have been during our evolution.

NB The case that a small minority of people who want to obscure their criminal acts by preventing to leave a trail consciously does not change our general position as being oblivious to our biometric trails in our daily lives.

We basically are not aware of others or devices registering our own biometrics

We are also not aware of others or devices registering our trails and metrics. Again we rationally know about it but it does not seem to really sink in as we are not prewired to it. As we project our own ideas, believes and capabilities upon others  we seem to have a tendency to project our very own (human) capabilities – including the misconceptions we have on them) on to other persons but also onto the systems, machines and instruments which surrounds us.

As we are oblivious to our biometric trails; the trails we leave – both in interacting with the virtual world and what we do in the virtual world – are oblivious to us too.

NB Also posted in this series:
1: Behavioral biometrics: “Is there still any place to hide?”
2: The sliding scale of physical and behavioral “fingerprints”
3: Two totally different meanings of Identity

5: Behavioral Biometrics: Blurring the line between Authentication and Identification