Financial firms will be reluctant to adopt biometric security systems unless the industry sets clear standards, witnesses told a House Banking subcommittee Wednesday.

In biometrics, a person is automatically recognized by physical traits such as fingerprints, voice, retina, iris, signature, hand geometry, or wrist veins.

The major impediment to universal implementation is the wide variety of competing devices, said James L. Wayman, director of the U.S. National Biometric Test Center, an independent research group.

"Even if a single biometric measure such as fingerprinting were accepted as the standard, there are dozens of proprietary formats for data storage and analysis," he told the subcommittee on monetary policy.

Biometrics has many possible applications in consumer finance. ATM card passwords, for example-or even the cards themselves-could be replaced by a biometric test like fingerprinting, witnesses said.

Biometrics could also be used to verify that a credit card user is its rightful owner, they said.

Subcommittee Chairman Michael N. Castle, R-Del., said, "Many of us would cheerfully trade in all these multidigit codes we use for one that was always at hand and could not be stolen, lost, forgotten, or duplicated."

Also testifying was a middle school student from Merritt Island, Fla., whose science project involved dressing her mother in various disguises and seeing if she could successfully cash checks and perform other functions requiring photo identification.

Though dressed as a clown, a man, and in more subtle costumes, Shanin P. Leeming's mother succeeded at all 10 establishments she visited, none of which was a bank.

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