ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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New International Standards on Biometric Data for ID Systems would Support Controversial UK Initiative


New York, Aug 30, 2005

The recent adoption by the British Standards Institution (BSI) of four international standards on biometric technology is seen by many as the next step in advancing a controversial proposal by the UK government to pass into law requirements for recording biometric data on British passports and on new UK identification cards. An identity card bill introduced to the Parliament in May would create a national database called the National Identity Register, and establish a national ID card. The cards and database will record biometric data according to new standards published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

BSI, the United Kingdom’s national standards body, moved quickly to adopt the first four standards approved and published within the multi-part standard ISO/IEC 19794 covering data structures to digitally record finger, face and iris images, and fingerprint features. The standards were developed by the U.S.-administered ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee on Information Technology (ISO/IEC JTC 1) and its Subcommittee on Biometrics (SC 37).

Security and anti-terrorism efforts are only part of the impetus behind the standards. They are also intended to prevent fraud and protect both individuals and commercial interests in the biometrics industry. ISO/IEC 19794 applies to access control and identification systems such as smart cards or other recognition tools, as well as the storage of biometric identification data in corporate databases.

Biometrics are currently used in U.S. passports through the U.S-VISIT program, and are being implemented in many other nations in a trend toward more technically advanced identification tools. In October 2004, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security adopted a biometric facial recognition standard developed by the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), a standards development organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). [See related story: Department of Homeland Security Adopts Facial Recognition Standard]

Source documents provided by the INCITS technical committee on Biometrics (M1) were submitted via the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to JTC 1/SC 37* and served as the basis of the four parts of ISO/IEC 19794 that were approved earlier this year. According to sources close to the standardization process, three of the four parts of the ISO/IEC standard have been published and are now available; the fourth will be officially published and available by the middle of September:

  • ISO/IEC 19794-2:2005 Information technology. Biometric data interchange formats. Finger minutiae data
    (publication expected September 15, 2005)

    This standard defines a biometric data block format that contains a digital record of the features that can be identified and extracted from a digitised fingerprint. It specifies how the minutiae are to be identified, and their relative positions recorded, but most importantly the data structure (the biometric data block format) to be used to record this information. This international standard has two main formats. The first provides rapid and easy matching, the second is a more compressed format that is more suitable where the biometric data block is stored on a smart card.

  • ISO/IEC 19794-4:2005 Information technology. Biometric data interchange formats. Finger image data

    This standard defines a biometric data block format that contains a digital record of the image of one or more fingers (or of a palm). It specifies how the image is to be acquired, and how it is to be converted to a digital representation, with a full specification of the digital format.

  • ISO/IEC 19794-5:2005 Information technology. Biometric data interchange formats. Face image data

    This standard defines a biometric data block format that contains a digital record of the image of a face. It specifies how the image is to be acquired (including lighting, pose of the subject – expression, head-dress, etc), and how it is to be converted to a digital representation, with a full specification of the digital format.

  • ISO/IEC 19794-6:2005 Information technology. Biometric data interchange formats. Iris image data

    This standard defines a biometric data block format that contains a digital record of the image of an iris. It specifies how the image is to be acquired, and how it is to be converted to a digital representation, with a full specification of the digital format. Two formats are defined. The first can be produced by minimal processing of the image. The second is more compact, but requires more processing of the image.

According to BSI, security and anti-terrorism efforts are only part of the impetus behind the standards. They are also intended to prevent fraud and protect both individuals and UK commercial interests in the biometrics industry. BS ISO/IEC 19794 applies to access control and identification systems such as smart cards or other recognition tools, as well as the storage of biometric identification data in corporate databases.


*NOTE: INCITS/M1 has a dual role in that it also serves as the U.S. TAG for JTC 1/SC 37.

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