It might be a while

Smart Guns: How Close Are We Really? (Government Technology)

[…M]any topics surrounding smart guns were approached and many questions were fielded, but finding conclusions or consensus began to feel like a photographer’s pursuit of the sunset. Smart guns are a topic so mired in political dispute, technological uncertainty, arcane legal policy, and institutional avoidance and denial that each pursuit of an answer simply presented a sound of hemming and hawing that was accompanied by a new set of questions.

The challenge of smart guns is interesting on many levels.

First, the basic function of a firearm — a mechanical force applied to a primer and igniting a propellant that forces a projectile from a tube at high speed — hasn’t changed much in the last hundred and fifty years and it doesn’t require electricity. The energy used in the function of a firearm is provided kinetically, by cocking it, and then chemically in the ignition of the primer and powder.

Adding biometrics or other 21st century security technologies to a system like this requires a power source and the power sources that come with the basic function of the firearm aren’t obviously well suited to powering microprocessor-based identity solutions.

So adding ID technology to firearms requires either a way of harnessing the energy already available to power the ID technology, or adding a power source that can supply the ID technology with the energy it needs to work. Those are both fairly significant challenges. The preferred solution to the power supply issue in smart guns seems to be the addition of a battery for the ID technology. But a battery-reliant firearm is a very different piece of hardware than current models that can be left stored, ready for instant use, more or less indefinitely. That feature of the current hardware set-up is highly relevant to the way many firearms are used by their current owners. “Wait, I need to charge my gun” probably isn’t something most firearm owners are looking forward to saying.

Then, there’s the corollary to the fact that modern firearms are essentially a nineteenth century technology: Actual firearms manufactured in the nineteenth century still perform their intended function just fine. Since firearms are fairly easy to maintain, it’s not clear how long it might take for smart guns to account for any significant proportion of the total number of firearms.

Given these challenges (and there are others), it seems pretty clear that smart guns are destined to be a niche product. There still may be a niche or two where smart guns make a lot of sense. But what would that niche look like?

People in frequent contact with a unique firearm would be accustomed to maintaining it frequently and would not be constrained by having to “enroll” on new hardware so often as to cause annoyance. Many who use a firearm in the course of their profession fit this description.

Professionals who carry firearms along with other rechargeable electronic equipment (flashlights, walkie-talkies, handheld computers, etc.) might not find plugging another piece of hardware into a recharger at the end of a day’s work too inconvenient.

People who are at a heightened risk of having their own firearm used against them might find smart gun technology more valuable than those with lower risk.

Those interested in smart guns should keep niches like these in mind as potential early adopters of smart gun technology. If the cost/benefit of the technology doesn’t work there, it’s hard to see it taking off anywhere.

For other firearm owners interested in using new ID technologies to make owning a firearm safer, there are a range of solutions and the good news is they’re backward compatible for use with dumb guns.

India: Iris to replace thumb print for pensioner verification in one district

‘Iris recognition system’ for pensions to be launched in Andhra Pradesh (Niti Central)

A biometric ‘Iris identification system’ for distribution of pension will be soon launched in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh.

At present, the pensions are being paid by taking a thumb impression of the pensioners, Krishna District Collector A Babu said in an official release. However, sometimes the illegible thumb impressions create problems, he said.

This is perhaps the first time I’ve seen one biometric modality displace another one in an existing ID management application.

The performance expectations for iris must be substantially higher than what the existing fingerprint system is producing because it looks like there will have to be a new enrollment process for pensioners in the 100 political villages and municipal wards undertaking the change.

A discussion of facial recognition in retail stores

Is Facial Recognition The Next Privacy Battleground? (Fast Company)

While much recent retail technology buzz has focused on the promise and peril of Apple’s iBeacons, another identity tech has matured: facial recognition. It’s now powerful enough to let stores use cameras to link customers’ faces to information stored in databases—but it’s also finding use in industrial and transportation settings, where it can be used to keep people away from sensitive areas. But are we ready for this tech to start linking personal data with our faces without our knowledge?

Legally, there’s nothing stopping American businesses from doing so. A recent BBC article posited the future concern that retail businesses could compare photos taken in-store with databases drawing from data found on the Internet—like databases of social media or Facebook users…

The piece is worth reading in its entirety.

US: New Mexico legislator proposes biometrics for voter ID

Thumbs Up? New Mexico to Study Biometrics to ID Voters (University of Minnesota)

Senate Minority Whip William Payne introduced a proposal this week that calls for the state’s top elections officials to study the feasibility of bringing biometrics into the mix. That could mean anything from retinal scans to the thumbprint-imaging technology used to access smartphones.

After hearing the same debate year after year, the Albuquerque Republican said he wanted to find a way to take some of the “venom” out of the argument that requiring photo identification would lead to voter suppression.

I don’t like to see so much made of retina biometrics but because this is big enough news, I’m linking it anyway.

That explains things a bit

It’s Apple’s fault that the Nexus 6 doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor (The Verge)

Former Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside has confessed that the dimple at the back of the Nexus 6 was originally intended to play host to a fingerprint sensor. Back in 2011, Motorola was a pioneer in bringing fingerprint recognition to its Atrix 4G smartphone, however the company it used then, Authentec, was purchased by Apple a year later for a price of $356 million. Authentec were, in Woodside’s judgment, the best supplier around and “the second best supplier was the only one available to everyone else in the industry and they weren’t there yet.”

Samsung to offer “touch-style” mobile fingerprint sensor

Samsung to ape Apple’s Touch ID with touch-style fingerprint sensor in ‘Galaxy S6’ – report (Apple Insider)

Samsung’s next flagship smartphone will ship with a Touch ID-like fingerprint sensor in place of the swipe-style sensor that the company employed on the underwhelming Galaxy S5, according to a new report.

Good move. The “swipe readers” can be a bit trickier to use.

Windows 10 pregame

What to expect (and what you won’t see) at this week’s Windows 10 launch

The Windows 10 technical preview released last fall was aimed squarely at enterprise customers, bringing back the Start menu and allowing sandboxed Windows Store apps to run in windows instead of full screen. This week’s update should be much more focused on consumer devices and services.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for in Redmond on Wednesday…

There is a brief biometric mention, but it’s mostly big-picture analysis of Microsoft’s consumer offerings.

USAA adopts mobile biometrics for account verification

In Your Face: USAA Brings Biometric Logon to Mobile Users

“This will make USAA the first U.S. financial institution to offer facial and voice recognition on a mobile app as added protection against fraud and identity theft,” the company announced.

So how does it work? USAA’s facial recognition requires users to look at the screen and, when prompted, blink their eyes. For voice recognition, users must read a short phrase.

Saygus V2 smartphone: Android with a fingerprint reader

First impressions: Saygus V2, the phone with 320GB storage (Times of India)

The right edge of the phone sports all hardware buttons(volume rocker, power and camera shutter) and a fingerprint sensor as well as a 60GHz mobile beaming transmitter.

The fingerprint reader appears to be one of the models where the user slides their finger across the sensor. The linked piece has a lot of photos and a review.

Forecast: Global biometrics market to see 19.6% CAGR through 2020

Biometrics – A Global Market Overview (Research and Markets)

The global market for Biometrics is slated to post a strong CAGR of 19.6% between 2014 and 2020 to reach a projected US$30.1 billion by 2020 from an estimated US$10.3 billion in 2014. Fingerprint recognition is estimated the largest technology with market worth US$3.2 billion in 2014 while Civil ID is slated to be the largest application with global market of US$4.6 billion in the same year.

Cybersecurity in Brazil

Guest Post: Brazil’s Cybersecurity Conundrum (Council of Foreign Relations)

Brazil has embraced the digital age with more gusto than most. It is one of the top users of social media and recently signed-off on a bill of rights for the Internet, the Marco Civil. The country is also a leader in the development of online banking with more than 43 percent of web users engaging such services, and can be proud of a thriving software industry, including some world class companies.

Brazil certainly is an interesting case.

India: News from the UID hackathon

Codes fly thick and fast in first Aadhaar Hackathon (Economic Times)

A slew of initiatives, including financial support to Aadhaar-based companies, were announced at country’s first hackathon, dedicated to innovating on the Aadhaar platform. The 24-hour marathon coding competition, conducted by incubator Khosla Labs and Nasscom, also announced an appstore dedicated to such applications, to be launched by the end of this month.


Better late than never

US customs allocated funding to test biometric exit app (Security Document World)

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill released on 9 January allocates US$3 million in funding for testing of a biometric exit app that would be used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The funding will be used for a biometric exit mobile application demonstration at two airports, according to an explanatory note added to the bill.

The idea of implementing an exit system at all US ports of entry was first touted in 1996 as part of the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act”.

3D scanner has biometric applications

Kind of a way of making templates that will allow the recreation of all sorts of three dimensional objects — Researchers develop 3-D reconstruction software (

This software performs a 3D scan of the original mechanical parts or faces to obtain a virtual model of the real dimensions of objects or parts that are no longer manufactured so they can be reproduced, said Jorge Luis Nuñez Flores, professor at the Department of Electronics of the University Center for Science in Engineering (CUCEI) of UDG.

“The reconstruction technique involves the projection and acquisition of binary patterns (stripes of clear and dark lights, deployed vertically and horizontally) using a commercial projector and a digital camera,” says Nuñez Flores.

Very clever, really. But unlike biometric templates, this technology is specifically made to help “reverse engineer” the original 3D object. So, in a way, this is a lot more like a data compression tool, than a biometric template generator.