Biometrics, for those of you who haven’t spent the last 10 years swearing at the automated passport gates at Heathrow, is the use of human measurements for identification. The most familiar biometrics are fingerprints, but the computer-powered scanning of eyes and faces is being implemented in a growing range of contexts. The origins of modern biometrics lies in the identification of criminals, but it was the war on terror that turned biometrics into the $13.8 billion industry it is today.
As a result the technology has leapt ahead in recent years – and leapt into some surprising places. You might use your fingerprint to access your smartphone, but everybody gets fingerprinted now, including schoolchildren. Facebook can recognise you even if it can’t see your face, but even music festival organisers have decided that facial recognition technology is a good bet. Despite longstanding concerns about privacy, biometrics clearly have their uses, and a growing range of sectors have been implementing them – including the humanitarian industry.