Biometric verification and identification explained

Graphics explaining verification and identification

Updated infographics and videos clear up the confusion

The Biometrics Institute, a leading voice in responsible biometrics use, has released updated explanatory graphics accompanied by videos to clarify the difference between biometric verification and identification when using biometrics for facial recognition.

They clarify basic biometric recognition operation and explore different use cases for verification and identification to aid understanding. A distinction which is crucial when considering policy and regulation for biometrics, as surveillance is only one of many use cases.

“We’re committed to fostering a common language for biometrics,” says Isabelle Moeller, CEO, Biometrics Institute. “These resources, developed through collaboration with experts and stakeholders, will empower a clearer understanding of this technology.”

The first Basic Operating Protocols graphic breaks down the foundational steps of biometric facial recognition. It highlights the two primary modes. Verification which confirms an identity claim through biometric comparisons in a 1:1 process, querying if a person is who they claim to be. And a one to many (1:n) identification process which queries if a data subject is in an enrolment database to find and return the biometric reference attributable to a single individual.

“It’s always necessary to have some form of initial enrolment to capture data” says Stephanie Schuckers, Director of the Biometrics Institute, as she explains the significance of basic biometric recognition. “That stored reference is what you later want to compare against, so that’s step one.”

The second verification and identification graphic demonstrates the many use cases, operating modes and data management associated with both types of facial recognition.

Verification involves referencing a biometric stored on a device, such as a mobile phone, to confirm a user’s identity by comparing data that’s captured against that reference. But a one-to-one comparison can be more complicated says Schuckers “the reference doesn’t always have to be stored locally. A reference can also be stored in a database… like an ATM machine… the data could be stored on the card, but it also could be stored at the bank.”

Identification use cases differ in that they query if the individual is in the database. Beginning with Positive ID, a person doesn’t make a claim about who they are, instead the biometric system searches a database to validate the user. Examples include school meal access or facility access, where the door opens as you approach.

Educational resources produced by the Institute’s members extend beyond these materials. Users can also access the Explanatory Dictionary of Biometrics which is a comprehensive glossary that builds upon existing definitions, clarifies terms within context, and highlights common usage variations. The Biometrics Essentials learning tool is a free online course, available in English and Spanish, offering fundamental biometrics knowledge grounded in responsible practices.

The Institute encourages everyone to watch the Verification and Identification part 1 Basic Operating protocols and part 2 Identification uses, modes and data videos and explore the freely available resources to gain a deeper understanding of biometric technology.


About the Biometrics Institute: 

The Biometrics Institute is the independent and impartial international membership organisation for biometric users and other interested parties. It was established in 2001 to promote the responsible, ethical and effective use of biometrics and has offices in London and Sydney. 

The member register, which represents a global and diverse multi-stakeholder community now lists over 200 membership organisations from 34 countries. It includes banks, airlines, government agencies, biometric experts, privacy experts, suppliers, academics and 14 Observers representing United Nations agencies, IGOs and European Union institution. 

The Biometrics Institute connects the global biometrics community. It shares knowledge with its members and key stakeholders and most importantly, develops good practices and thought leadership for the responsible, ethical and effective use of biometrics. 

For more information, please email Marco Lombardi:

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