Several biometric identification vendors and other technology leaders are closing in on the kind of barrier-leveling technical standard that has eluded their counterparts in the smart card world.
After eight months of effort, the BioAPI Consortium in early December released a draft application programming interface, designed to encourage development of a wide range of systems that rely on human physical characteristics for authentication.
Supporters say they are well on the way to making security systems based on the uniqueness of fingers, hands, voices, faces, or eyes-all would be accommodated by BioAPI-realistic and economical substitutes or supplements for passwords and personal identification numbers in banking, electronic commerce, and anywhere else there is a need for such safeguards.
Grant Evans, vice president of Identicator Technology Corp., a fingerprint specialist and prime mover in the BioAPI group, said it is on schedule to produce a full-blown version 1.0 of the specification by the time the industry gathers in Chicago next May for the annual Cardtech/Securtech conference.
"In the beginning, we were criticized for slowing things down," Mr. Evans said in an interview two weeks ago during the Cardtech/Securtech West conference in San Jose, Calif. The complaint was that BioAPI-despite bringing the prestige and clout of founders like Compaq Computer Corp., International Business Machines Corp., and Microsoft Corp.-might complicate a few pre-existing attempts to write standard application programming interfaces.
But none of those were detailed or high-level enough for the BioAPI members' liking, nor were they "geared toward end-users," said Mr. Evans. BioAPI effectively focused attention on the bigger picture, attracting a diversified membership and welcoming the longer-standing API projects, among them "BAPI" and "HA-API," into the dialogue.
Citigroup, the parent of Citibank, and Kaiser Permanente, the health maintenance organization, have given the second-tier "contributor" class of BioAPI membership important line-of-business representation. Also in the group are two U.S. government agencies, the digital certificate company Entrust Technologies, chip-maker Siemens, and Unisys Corp.
Between the contributors and the top-tier "promoter" members, all forms of biometrics are represented.
Some personal computer manufacturers have begun shipping keyboards with finger scanning or other biometric devices, but there has been no common agreement on the API software layer that would allow for easy plug-ins and interchanges among the various technological alternatives.
Though there is still much work to do to, the biometric movement has made more collaborative progress than the smart card industry. The banking subset alone is bickering over competing APIs and operating systems, such as Visa's Java-language approach and the Mondex program's Multos.
The card and biometric sectors may ultimately be on common ground, as biometric codes could be loaded on chip cards.
As the BioAPI draft specification was being aired at Card-tech/Securtech West, William Saito, president of I/O Software Inc., a participant in BioAPI and organizer of the Biometric Application Programming Interface Working Group, said "BAPI" will conclude its work on device-software interfaces and fold it into BioAPI.
Along the same lines, Catherine Tilton of Saflink, representing the Human Authentication Application Programming Interface program, said that "HA-API" was being submitted to BioAPI and her group intended to rally around a single industry standard.
"If you get a bunch of biometric companies and PC companies together, you can get a de facto standard," said Mr. Evans. "That is positive for BioAPI, which has been gaining momentum since the announcement" in April.
The draft specification "represents a major milestone for the BioAPI Consortium," said the group's secretary, Stephen Heil of Compaq. "With release of this specification, the consortium can now solicit broader industry input into the specification development process and quickly move toward completion and marketwide adoption."
The organization intentionally kept the membership small in the early stages to avoid having "too many chefs in the kitchen," Mr. Evans said. "Now we want everybody in."