What is Biometrics?

Biometrics is the science of automated methods for uniquely recognizing humans based upon one or more intrinsic physical or behavioral traits.

In information technology, the term “biometric authentication” refers to technologies that measure and analyze human physical and behavioral characteristics for authentication purposes. Examples of physical characteristics include fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, facial patterns and hand measurements, while examples of mostly behavioral characteristics include signature, gait and typing patterns.

Although biometrics have primarily been utilized by law enforcement, biometric technologies are now being used by other government agencies to authenticate a person’s identity and to secure the nation’s borders.  Biometric systems recognize a person based on physiological characteristics, such as fingerprints, hand and facial features, and iris patterns, or behavioral characteristics that are learned or acquired, such as how a person signs his name, types, or even walks. The Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been a partner with Justice in improving the nation’s human identification systems.


The successful use of the classic biometric, fingerprints, has benefited from NIST research and development. For more than 30 years, NIST has helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) improve the automation process for matching “rolled” fingerprints taken by law enforcement agencies or “latent” prints found at crime scenes against the FBI’s master file of fingerprints. NIST test data have been used to develop automated systems that can correctly match fingerprints by the minutiae, or tiny details, that investigators previously had to read by hand. In cooperation with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), NIST also developed a uniform way for fingerprint, facial, scar, mark, and tattoo data to be exchanged between different jurisdictions and between dissimilar systems made by different manufacturers.

Within GJXDM and NIEM one can use BiometricType property to describe information used to measure a biological or behavioral characteristic.