Biometry, or biometrics, is the application of statistical analysis to biological data. In the 21st century, it seems almost intuitive to think of our bodies as natural identification systems for our unique selves. In fact, the idea that our bodies, eyes, faces and fingers might give us (and criminals and terrorists) away developed over time, through the work of many people.
14th Century ChinaAccording to one source, biometrics can be traced to 14th century China, where merchants used children's palm and footprints to distinguish them from one another.
19th Century France: Anthropometry Develops
Others date the origins of biometrics to Alphonse Bertillon. He was a member of the police was working as a record clerk in his native Paris when he invented anthropometry in the late 19th century: the use of body measurements to identify criminals. Bertillon's system also involved recording suspects' body movements and marks on their bodies, such as warts or tattoos. Both American and British police forces used this system, which came to be called Bertillonage, to narrow the number of suspects they sought. However, measurements could not be made exactly and different officers always measured slightly differently (even the same person would measure differently at different times).
Late 19th Century: Fingerprinting Begins
There are many steps in the history of fingerprinting as a way to identify criminals. Bertillon included fingerprinting in his system, but not as an important element. An Argentine police official was the first person to keep fingerprint files. He classified fingerprints according to a system established by Sir Francis Galton, an anthropologist related to Charles Darwin. Galton later published a book, Fingerprints, that contained a classification system. His discovery that no two individuals share the same fingerprint, and his classification of the details of an individual's fingerprint are largely used today. By the 1920s, fingerprint identification was used by law enforcement, the U.S. military and the FBI as a form of identification.
Late 20th Century: Automated Biometric TechniquesAlthough finger printing is still in use today, computer aided techniques began developing—rapidly—in the last quarter of the twentieth century. These techniques sought to measure our voices, our hands, fingers, irisis and faces. Once ideas were proposed, development was rapid. For example, in 1985, the idea that irises are unique was proposed; development of an iris identification system began in 1993; in 1994 the first iris recognition algorithm was patented, and the year after that, a commercial product measuring irises became available. Iris scanners have already been tested as supplements in security contexts in a number of countries, as well as in commercial contexts.
Learn more about Iris Scanning.