Factors such as age, race, and profession can affect the accuracy of biometric identification systems, according to a study released this week.

International Biometric Group of New York came to this conclusion after testing 240 people from a variety of demographic groups on eight fingerprint and two face recognition systems currently on the market.

Experts in the field of identification technologies based on physical characteristics had already suspected that the elderly, Asians, and people who rough up their hands at work-such as construction workers-would be difficult subjects. The New York consulting firm said its study is the first of its kind to compare how a number of systems stack up against each other.

"An old-age home's cafeteria would use a different system from an office log-in," said Samir Nanavati, founding partner of International Biometric Group.

A system's "failure-to-enroll" rate, the degree to which a system cannot distinguish a user the first time a fingerprint or face is presented, emerged as a key performance measure, Mr. Nanavati said.

"We found the failure-to-enroll rate for certain demographic groups is higher on some systems than on others," said Mr. Nanavati.

The study examined finger scanning systems from American Biometric Co., Digital Persona, Identicator, Identix, Mytec, Sony, ST Micro Electronics, and Veridicom. It also tested face recognition systems from Miros and Visionics.

Also gauging individuals' reactions to facial versus finger systems, the study indicated that "people thought face recognition was as intrusive as fingerprints," Mr. Nanavati said. Yet they did not associate fingerprints with "Big Brother," he added.

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Hoping to promote biometrics while addressing concerns about abuse of identification data, the International Biometric Industry Association has laid out a series of privacy principles.

The 15-company group, which was formed last September, said biometric techniques offer an effective barrier against unauthorized access to personal information because they consist of electronic codes separate from the information.

The Washington-based association is advocating development of policies "that clearly set forth how biometric data will be collected, stored, accessed, and used and that preserve the rights of individuals to limit the distribution of data beyond stated purposes," it said in a statement.

The group also called for legal standards to define and limit the conditions under which law enforcement agencies may acquire and use biometric data.

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Two standards-setting organizations in the biometrics industry announced a merger this week.

The BioAPI Consortium, organized last year by Compaq Computer Corp., International Business Machines Corp., Microsoft Corp., and several leading biometrics vendors, has joined forces with the Human Authentication Application Programming Interface Working Group, known as HA-API.

The groups had similar goals of assuring that any biometric option can be incorporated into any type of computer operating system or device. The working group had its roots in a government project and released a specification in November 1997 that has since been thoroughly refined.

Compaq executive Stephen Heil, secretary of the consortium, said the merger "benefits the entire biometric industry." His counterpart at the working group, Brian Sullivan of TRW Inc., said it would "accelerate delivery of a single, open API specification."

Barclays Bank and Citigroup represent the banking industry in the expanded consortium.

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