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Ears Might Be Better Than Fingerprints For ID

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the you-can't-pinnae-that-on-me dept.

Security 135

An anonymous reader writes "A new study says that outer ear could be better unique identification mark in human beings than finger prints. 'When you're born your ear is fully formed. The lobe descends a little, but overall it stays the same. It's a great way to identify people,' said Mark Nixon, a computer scientist at the University of Southampton and leader of the research. Nixon and his team presented a paper at the IEEE Fourth International Conference on Biometrics and using an algorithm identified people with 99.6 per cent accuracy." An anonymous reader adds a link to Wired's story on the same conference presentation, which adds this skeptical note: "'I have seen no scientific proof that the ear doesn’t change significantly over time. People tend to believe notions like these, and they are repeated over time,' said Anil Jain, a computer scientist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study. 'Fingerprinting has a history of 100 years showing that it works, unless you destroy your fingerprints or work in an industry that gives you calluses.'"

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earprints (4, Funny)

Bai jie (653604) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223360)

Yeah but how often do you leave earprints at the scene of a crime?

Re:earprints (3, Funny)

dogsbreath (730413) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223538)

... when you listen to the tumblers on a safe!

Re:earprints (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224922)

Oh, come on. Even a hundred years ago, criminals used stethoscopes for that.

earpics at the airport ... (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223668)

This is not for identifying prints at crime scenes. Rather, for IDing all those gazillions of terrorist folks who waltz into the US as tourists every day. So add pictures of your ears to the thumbprints and facial photos that are taken when you go through customs.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we cannot take a picture of your ears in this condition. Here's a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a box of Q-tips. Please clean them up, before we can let you into the "Land of the Free" . . . of ear wax.

"Um, sorry to bother you, chief, but this foreign chick is wearing Groucho Glasses and fake plastic ears. Should I just take a picture of her like that, or should she remove the stuff first? I was concerned that if she committed a terrorist crime, she would probably be wearing the Groucho Glasses . . . and the ears."

identified people with 99.6 per cent accuracy

It must kinda sorta suck being in that 00.4 per cent:

"Mom! You said that grandma and grandpa came from Scotland. But the TSA says that my ears indicate heritage from folks from the Fertile Crescent . . . "

The next phase will be fractal analysis of pictures of dicks and labia . . . they're always just a wee bit different on every person.

Re:earpics at the airport ... (1)

JDmetro (1745882) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223750)

Rather, for IDing all those gazillions of terrorist folks who waltz into the US as tourists every day.
Don't turbains kind of cover the ear at least partially? Now how long before asking someone to remove their tubain for ear identification become racist/religious persecution?

99.6% accurate is useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224104)

Consider checking airplane passengers against a no-fly terrorist ear list: ~900,000,000 passengers/year x 0.4 error rate = ~36,000,000 false positives/year. Totally useless as such results would either have to be ignored or effectively shut down air traffic. This is a classic statistics problem often overlooked: what sounds like a highly accurate test can be useless when the population it tries to identify is a quite small fraction of the total population. It makes one hellova good interview question for any engineer or programmer, separating people who can think from those who just memorize. Flunk this and I don't care how good your GPA was.

Re:99.6% accurate is useless (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224172)

Good point, but check your math - 900,000,000 *0.4% = 3,600,000. Same conclusion, though.

Re:99.6% accurate is useless (2, Insightful)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224774)

What you described is the classic difference between sensitivity and positive predictive value (PPV). Sensitivity is a basic characteristic of a test, in this case 99.6% (Actually the TFA mentioned accuracy, which is a bit different, but let's not nitpick). PPV tells us what is the chance that a positive result (in this case, an ear match), is a true positive. Since the equation is TP/(TP+FP) (TP True positive; FP - False positive), it is affected by how common (or rare) the trait we are looking for is in the population we are checking. Since a terrorist is a rare occurrance, the PPV is (very) low.
However, if we change the test a bit we can improve the PPV. Let's say we do not use the ears as a single test, but rather as a verification for the ID. A person shows a passport and then his ears are compared to what is stored at the computer. Here the test is used just for verification and not identification and we have a much better PPV (In this case a positive is actually a mismatch between the passport and ears) and the system can be used to detect people with fake IDs.
BTW, this is used in many places where fingerprints are used. I don't know about other countries, but in Israel citizens can register their fingerprints and bypass passport control by going to a booth where you pass a magnetic card (containing your ID) and then you put your fingerprints for verification.
So is 99.6% good enough? depending on the application. Oh, does anyone know what is the accuracy of fingerprint recognition devices?

Re:99.6% accurate is useless (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224876)

Consider checking airplane passengers against a no-fly terrorist ear list: ~900,000,000 passengers/year x 0.4 error rate = ~36,000,000 false positives/year. Totally useless

You could have stopped at "Totally useless".

No fly lists are a joke.

If a passenger passes all the screening and has no weapons, and there are no more than one of them on the flight then let them fly.

Re:earprints (1)

EnsilZah (575600) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223810)

I'd imagine it would solve a signification portion of all those unsolved damsel-tied-to-train-tracks cases.

Re:earprints (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223952)

I found one ear print in 15 years and there is no ear data base and no experts on ear prints that I know of; so you have an excellent point. The ear for I.D. has been suggested before but what the article implies is that fingerprints change over time. Of course they are subject to wear and tear and health, drug use, etc. But aside from getting larger as you grow the prints remain the same from birth to death. The bottom line is we are all unique in so many respects that we hardly have the technology to separate what is unique from the sameness of the environment. So ears are unique but so is each persons scent! But there is also no data base for sweat and no bloodhound that can answer all the questions posed by the worst attorney.

Proof??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224084)

FTFS: Fingerprinting has a history of 100 years showing that it works, unless you destroy your fingerprints or work in an industry that gives you calluses.

Let's talk about what's been proven -- specifically uniqueness.

It's been assumed for far too long that fingerprints (with, I seem to remember, those of identical twins) are unique. But the FBI will not verify in a public, reproducible manner that this is true.

In fact, it is documented that a lady DA (in either Phoenix or Tucson) ran a search on a set of fingerprints. Then, she opted to continue the search beyond the first hit. The FBI detected this and warned her that, if she persisted, her county would be denied access to the FBI database. She discontinued testing the system as denial would have been too high a price to pay.

When she made this response public, the FBI denied that they would really impose the sanction. The originally sanction, however, as originally stated, had the desired chilling effect and no one has since attempted to test the "uniqueness" meme.

Re:earprints (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224246)

When you forget one of your ears at the crime-scene but if you forget both of them they can't do anything.

Don't answer the phone! (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#34225328)

how often do you leave earprints at the scene of a crime?

You know the joke of the blonde with a burned ear? The phone rang when she was ironing her clothes.

Re:earprints (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 3 years ago | (#34225656)

And don't forget Toulouse-Lautrec!

Re:earprints (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34225780)

Downmod the above; I misspelt van Gogh, which is redundent anyway.

Not better than fingerprints (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223366)

Careless criminals don't often leave their earprints at crime scenes.

Bad news for Criminals! (1)

mlawrence (1094477) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223376)

There is no easy way to hide your ear, and those prints get everywhere.

Re:Bad news for Criminals! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223744)

Umm.. Turbans?

When was first contact? (2, Funny)

drmacinyasha (1717962) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223382)

So I guess the Ferengi have made first contact with us poor terrans and have begun influencing our culture...

Re:When was first contact? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223400)


See the DS9 episode "little green men".

Seems silly (2, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223396)

I mean no biometric ID is ever likely to be 100%. What you are just changes over time so even if we could measure it perfectly, there has to be fudge factor built in. Then there are situations like wins and so on.

However, that's ok, it doesn't need to be perfect. Biometrics shouldn't be security on its own, it should be in tandem with a passcode and/or a key or the like. The idea isn't that any of it is perfect, of course not, just that trying to successfully break more than one is really hard. Like if a door just has a passcode, well then what someone has to do is find out a legit passcode and use it. Not too hard in theory at least. However if that passcode is tied to a fingerprint, well then that is a problem. Even if it is only 99% accurate that means you have to find the 1 person in 100 that will work with that particular passcode. That is near impossible.

The big problem with biometrics at this point doesn't really seem to be accuracy but spoofing. Now that isn't as large a problem as it may seem since it isn't like getting a fingerprint from someone and making a replica is the easiest thing in the world, but it is a much bigger problem than accuracy. So unless this method is much harder to spoof, I don't really see how it matters that much.

Cheaper Solution (3, Funny)

cosm (1072588) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223424)

Genitalia Biometrics. TSA would be hitting two birds with one stone. Once they make sure there are no bombs around your pecker (or peckette), they match your pecker against a database of peckerheads. Genitalia are not known to change over time (except my wife's), so they would probably need an If IsWife() { RaiseToleranceThreshold(); }; to prevent false positives (but not HIV positives, still need condoms for that).

Re:Cheaper Solution (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224272)

Wait, wait, wait, Peckette? I don't know if I should be frightened to ask or aroused...

Re:Cheaper Solution (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224494)

Cigar > Cigarette
Pecker > Peckette (or Peckerette)

For what purpose? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223438)

If you want to identify a user for a locked system, is an ear going to be harder to fake than a fingerprint?

If you want to identify the perpetrator of a break-in, is an ear likely to be an identifiable leave-behind?

I don't understand who they are proposing would find significant advantage to this.

I beg to differ... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223454)

Have you ever seen people with jewelry that stretches their ears in a significant ways? What about wrestlers? Some of these peoples ears bare little resemblance to what they did when born. Now granted people can burn their finger tips and do all kinds of other crap as well, but this kind of mutilation is usually intentional as compared to the examples above (yes... I know people can lose fingers to a saw too...)

Re:I beg to differ... (1)

Fuzzums (250400) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223704)

That is why the government wants you to come by every 6 months for a new set of ear prints, finger prints and phone and financial records.
That's to keep their we'll-make-damn-sure-there-is-nothing-left-for-you-to-hide-database accurate ;)

Re:I beg to differ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34225616)

I know people can lose fingers to a saw too.

Like Rahm Emmanuel. He was notably profane. It is said that he became very angry when informed that Chicago fourth graders were cussing at only a second grade level.

Cauliflower (4, Insightful)

cosm (1072588) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223466)

The martial arts crowd would be pretty immune to unique profiles, their ears [wikipedia.org] develop pretty homogeneously with their career.

Re:Cauliflower (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224300)

You think that's bad? Try fighting against Mike Tyson! But to be fair, I think Mike Tyson was trying to bring back the Van Gogh style. If TSA is cool with this form of ID, I'm sure that style will come back to bite TSA in the rear.

ear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223488)

what about piercings?

Fingerprint destruction (5, Interesting)

Xugumad (39311) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223492)

> unless you destroy your fingerprints

Having inadvertantly taken my fingerprints off one hand at one point (yes, it was VERY painful, thank you), and found (as many others have) that they grow back... can you actually damage them so bad/repeatedly they don't grow back, and still have things like, erm, fingertips?

Re:Fingerprint destruction (3, Informative)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223628)

Yes. The basis behind fingerprints is that as long as the regenerating tissue at the bottom of the skin layer remains alive, it will eventually regenerate same prints. However when damage extends to the deepest layers of the skin, the fingerprints are altered permanently. This is achievable via:

1. Physical trauma. When potential damage extends below the regenerative layer of the skin, your fingerprints end up altered.
2. Skin grafting: for example after heavy burns to your hands that require skin to be replaced fully. This will change your fingerprints.

I suspect that trauma that took your fingerprints off was a surface trauma of some sort, that only removed your prints temporarily, as regenerative layer of the skin remained alive.

Re:Fingerprint destruction (1)

Ga_101 (755815) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223764)

I don't think that the issue is weather or not they grow back, but more a case of where or not you can damage them to a point where they will not be recognised by the scanning software.
I know I have picked up a number of scars on my fingers in my line of work which I do not want to result in a 3 hour delay at an airport. Saying that, ears are no better, for I have a chunk out of my left ear from a rugby injury.

One of these days they will come up with a better method of identification, until then, I think it would be better for all if we could learn to start trusting each other again.

Re:Fingerprint destruction (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224832)

One of these days they will come up with a better method of identification, until then, I think it would be better for all if we could learn to start trusting each other again.

Printf ('Are you a terrorist?');
Scanf ("%s", Answer);
If Answer=='Y' Goto Jail() else Goto Flight();


It's been more than 10 years since I programmed anything. I'm sure there are syntex errors, give me a break!

Re:Fingerprint destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34225966)

If Answer=='Y' Goto Jail() else Goto Flight();


It's been more than 10 years since I programmed anything. I'm sure there are syntex errors, give me a break!

Only ten years for using gotos? The courts were way too forgiving.

Re:Fingerprint destruction (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224210)

Extensive scarring might deform them, but the fingerprint structure extends below the upper layers of skin that are removed by normal injury. Wikipedia says that John Dillinger tried to destroy his with acid, and failed completely.

Re:Fingerprint destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224298)

can you actually damage them so bad/repeatedly they don't grow back

In my 20s, I was working on cars a lot, including carburetor cleaning. The solution used really crapped out my prints -- lots of cracks, etc. When I went to the local PD to get printed for a teaching credential, the prints looked really bad. However they had a rubber stamp which read "Best prints obtainable".

So I guess you could simply do a lot of carb cleaning. Of course, by now, the cleaner has probably been reformulated and contains emollients like lanolin so the bedwetting pansy yuppies won't have to deal with any problems.

Re:Fingerprint destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224638)

Yes, you can. You have to damage it down the the layer of flesh known dermal papillae, beneath the epidermis which is all you damaged.

It's painful, and has a tendency of making a fingerprint MORE identifiable with LESS data.

Re:Fingerprint destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34225108)

Yes, I've permanent damage to both of my four fingers, caused by too much typing on non ergonomic keyboards.
( the raised sections on "f" and "j" have a lot to answer for)

Well, they will probably be scanned by cameras (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223532)

and the scans will be used to identify individuals in an area. I'm going into business selling slip on Spock and Ferengi ears. Soon to be followed by a law outlawing slip on ears and long hair.

They'll need larger ink pads (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223542)

It's going to take a really large ink pad to take ear prints.

Re:They'll need larger ink pads (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224420)

It's going to take a really large ink pad to take ear prints.

How about ultrasonic holograms?
I won't hear of it!

This color clashes with my turban.

100 year history showing that it works? (5, Informative)

OSPolicy (1154923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223564)

"Fingerprinting has a history of 100 years showing that it works."

Fingerprinting has a history of well over 100 years, but what we see is that it works as long as it is not seriously challenged. In its only major rigorous challenge, the 50Kx50k text, substantial problems emerged.

Keep in mind that fingerprints are never admitted into evidence, never used for identification, never even examined. Never. A finger touches a surface and it leaves a partial copy. An investigator finds it and puts powder (matrix) on it, which creates a visible picture of the copy. It is often not possible to get a good photo of the copy, so someone uses tape or other gear to get an image of the picture of the copy. Then someone photographs the tape containing the image of the picture of the copy. Then a print of the photograph of the tape of the image of the picture of the copy is created. If there are no more steps, which would be unusual, that print is what is actually used for evidence or analysis. Scientifically-minded readers will have already tallied up at least a partial list of the errors introduced at each step of the process.

And what sort of analysis is done? The best lab in the country, the FBI, uses an analysis process taught by a high school grad who washed out of college after two years. Obviously, other labs do not enjoy such high standards. What standards do they use, you may ask? None. There are no required national standards for fingerprint analysts. There are guidelines that suggest that a high school diploma should be required, but the advisory guidelines bind no one.

But at least they use a rigorous process with well-defined standards?

"The International Association for Identification assembled in its 58th annual conference... based on a three-year study by its Standardization Committee, hereby states that no valid basis exists at this time for requiring that a predetermined minimum of friction ridge [fingerprint] characteristcs must be present in two impressions in order to establish positive identification."

So no, there are no standards, which is a good thing because the relevant international body has determined that there is "no valid basis" for establishing one.

So now they say that they can get better results by looking at someone's ears? Hm... Well, the good news is that they're probably right. The bad news is that they've got a long way to go before they can say that it's any great accomplishment.

Re:100 year history showing that it works? (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223836)

You sound like a great defense attorney! Can I have your card, to put in my wallet (just in case!).

Re:100 year history showing that it works? (3, Insightful)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224608)

The drop out, would that be Bill Gates, Dean Kamen, Michel Dell, Larry Elliston, or Steve Jobs?

Okay, admittedly not all of those guys made it through two full years before washing out of college.

Re:100 year history showing that it works? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224768)

And yet, fingerprinting has a 100 years history showing it works.

Re:100 year history showing that it works? (2, Interesting)

sampas (256178) | more than 3 years ago | (#34225608)

Actually, no, you can't depend on fingerprints for identification in many crime cases. Anyone who's read Ross Anderson's Security Engineering book is familiar with a number of cases in which police said fingerprints are a match when they are not. When police say fingerprints match, it's often only a four or five-point match, which really isn't a match at all. Other departments require an eight-point match or greater. What's a "match" in one jurisdiction isn't even close in another. No one's ever proven that two people don't have the same fingerprints, either. Likewise, investigators also say the MD5 hash of a file is its "fingerprint" without ever informing jury of how many collisions there are with MD5 or the algorithm's obsolescence.

Re:100 year history showing that it works? (2, Interesting)

blindseer (891256) | more than 3 years ago | (#34225826)

I've had my fingerprints taken several times in my life. The first time I was in grade school and everyone in class was marched into the "music room" (just another classroom but this one had grade school equivalents of real musical instruments) only to be met by two people in uniform and were were fingerprinted without really telling us why. I found out later that the sheriff was dong this, he was giving the parents the fingerprint cards supposedly as a measure to identify children that were abducted. Years after that I found out that fingerprints are rarely used in identifying children as missing children are rarely found with viable fingerprints, such as in being dead. DNA tests did not exist then, but dental records did.

I was fingerprinted again for the Army. Again to get a concealed weapon permit. Both times the person taking my fingerprints were in uniform, acted professionally, and were very meticulous in taking the prints.

The last time I had my fingerprints taken was for a concealed weapon permit in another state. The class was held in what most people would consider a shack in a small town on a private club's shooting range. The instructor offered to take our fingerprints for no additional fee. He took fingerprint cards out of a folder, handed them to each of us, and instructed us in how to fill in the blanks on the top. He then produced an ink pad, much like one would see used by a librarian to wet the little stamp to mark the check out date, and told us how to make a clear impression on the cards. He then filled out his own contact information on the forms. While we were doing this I started to ask what kind of training he had in taking fingerprints. None. I asked what kind of authority he carried in taking fingerprints. None. He was wearing a sheriff shirt or cap that indicated he worked for a local county sheriff but when I asked what he did there he was very vague. He could have been a deputy, a trainer of some sort, a jailor, or just some paper pusher. It appears my fingerprints were all OK since I got my permit.

That conversation held in a Midwestern shack destroyed the illusion I had on the validity of fingerprinting as a crime prevention or crime solving tool. To further erode the confidence I have in fingerprinting I was asking some questions about another concealed weapon permit. (To those that have been keeping count, yes, this is my third application for a concealed weapons permit. This is necessary since so few states will recognize permits from another state.) The sheriff was charging only $15 to process the permit and only $10 to process the fingerprints. That did not add up since the other states were charging considerably more than that. I came to the conclusion that the sheriff was not submitting the fingerprints to the FBI like the other states did. The FBI charges something like $30 to process fingerprints. There is no way the sheriff is going to be taking general funds to process fingerprints for concealed weapon permits. This county sheriff office made the newspapers for how much in the hole his budget was running, which probably led to getting a new sheriff. The fingerprints cost next to nothing for him to take and shove in a drawer while at the same time getting $10 from each person wanting to carry a concealed firearm.

I was in awe on how this all must work. On TV and in movies they show people in white coats comparing images with large computers in impressive stone buildings. Nope, it's dudes in ball caps and blue jeans in a shack out by a corn field looking at fingerprints with a magnifying glass and a keychain light.

And I care why? (0, Flamebait)

KingFrog (1888802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223576)

So, I should discount the scientific study because some Computer Scientist is unaware of any evidence about ear printing technologies? I think we should avoid all computer devices, because the head of the Home Soapmakers Guild has never heard of reliable digital information exchange, too! How do I get an eyeroll on this thing?


Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223630)

10 of them, all with pretty unique signatures that, given 2 being left anywhere, have the high chance of being unique amongst the entire human race. (1 has been known to have crossover between several people)

2 ears. 2 ears attached to a head. 2 ears that will never leave the side of that head. (unless you are a struggling artist)
And 2 ears that could be hit and bloat out like an evening meal for the veggies.

Biometrics would be better off using the iris and retina, both are almost certainly unique when combined together. And i find it doubtful that any company, even with loads of resources, is skilled enough to make a fake iris+retina lens.

Of course, doesn't hurt to use all of the methods above. You never know when you could lose both eyes and all your fingers... in some sort of freak boating accident that left your ears intact.


Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223758)

Of course, doesn't hurt to use all of the methods above. You never know when you could lose both eyes and all your fingers... in some sort of freak boating accident that left your ears intact.

Or get involved in a fight "to the pain" with the Dread Pirate Roberts.

ear prints (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223658)

burglars sometimes leave ear prints on doors. i only found out after some had visited my place ;-)

Ear lobes can change over time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223748)

"I am disappoint". Really, you don't need to be an expert to know about the aztecs' earings that made their lobes lonver over time. Just UFG, search images for "ear lobe" and you'll find many [blogspot.com] interesting [zhippo.com] things [blogspot.com] like [macky.net] this [extremefunnyhumor.com].

QED (1)

MoeDumb (1108389) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223752)

Some men's ears elongate tremendously as they age. An earlobe crease can develop indicating cardiac problems. Killer Kowalski bit off Yukon Eric's ear during a Canadian wrestling match. Your witness.

If I may... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34223772)

Please watch Supernatural episode "Time Is On My Side".

Nothing new... (1)

Sooner Boomer (96864) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223834)

The French police officer, Alphonse Bertillon (April 24, 1853 - February 13, 1914) was a biometrics researcher who created anthropometry, an identification system based on physical measurements. Anthropometry was the first scientific system used by police to identify criminals.
?This was eventually supplanted by fingerprinting, because os inconsistancies in measurement. Using computer- or video-based measurements should help standardize measurements and increase statistical accuracy. Wikipedia article on Bertillion: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Alphonse_Bertillon [wikimedia.org]

Re:Nothing new... (1)

DERoss (1919496) | more than 3 years ago | (#34225030)

Bertillon's system made significant use of ear patterns. It was abandoned when someone in Bertillon's own France was almost convicted of a crime committed by someone else who had a very, very similar ear pattern. Yes, modern biometric technology might overcome such problems. However, adjusting for rotation, obliqueness, and sizing between two images of an ear might easily introduce enough distortion to create a false positive or a false negative.

I thought this was old news (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | more than 3 years ago | (#34223966)

Back in the early 90's I had a friend who showed me his Federal ID, they had a front and profile photo and made him hold his hair back to expose his ear for the profile shot. He explained that they used the earlobe as an identifying feature since each person's was unique and was a practice they got from the Nazis. So reading this now, almost 20 years later leaves me scratching my head at what seems to be very very very old news. Of course, I did not read the article, and wouldn't be surprised if it were repeat from the 40's

Ears work for Passive ID (1)

edibobb (113989) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224036)

Ears may be good for passive video identification. Before long, I might have to start modifying my ears with clay in order to get through airport security.

And what about plastic surgery for the ears? (2, Informative)

wernst (536414) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224050)

I was born with ears that stuck out worse that Prince Charles. I was teased about them all through school.

In college I had my ears "tucked," which basically made them lay flat against my head. I had generous grandparents.

Anyway, the point is that to do this, (the following not for the queasy), they slice open your ear, take out the cartilage (which is what forms all the unique bumps and curves of your ear), manually reshape it, stick it back in, and then sew you up.

Not only did my ears finally not stick out, but they looked totally different than they did before: none of the curves matched, and even my earlobes are a different shape (the bottoms are trimmed a bit and then stitched back to your head.)

This is not terribly expensive surgery, and while a bit painful, if I were a criminal trying to beat a set of "earprints" somehow left at the scene of a crime, I'd have it done in a second.

Stupid Forensics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224072)

Fingerprints are statistically invalid because you cant get consistently repeatable results when you consider sample conditions, age, different examiners, etc.

now, given the scope of suspects in most cases, fingerprints are generally considered RELIABLE though not valid.

In no case should they be used for a positive identification.....though they are strong supporting signal.

Also, TV completely distorts forensics so dont believe what you see. (we have all seen "enhance the image")

The only techniques that are regularly used in forensics considered valid and reliable are genetics and analytical chemistry.

Peoples Ears and nose keep growing throughout their lifespan and as such, it would be difficult to use a sample scan for more than a few years (barring catastrophic injury/infection/etc)

Though, you could probably continuously update your ear scan data and keep a running average or something

This idea is earroneous (1)

slayer_ix (927649) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224112)

Hello Mr. PlasticSugeonGuy, Please make my ears look like this photo here. Great, thanks goodbye now. Runs over to bank, yeeess I would like to withdraw 6 million from my savings account. Certainly sir, let me scan your ear first. Ok the ear cheques out, here is your money.

Re:This idea is earroneous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224544)

Ok the ear cheques out, here is your money.

Please, please - tell me you did that on purpose.

Biometrics are not the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224114)

Even if there would be rock-solid rigorous studies backing up all the wild assertions that biometrics do everything that's claimed --which as noted hasn't seriously happened even for fingerprints, nevermind dna, ears, irises, veins, bones, funny walks, faces, what-have-you-- then it still would be a collossal error to equate a biometric match with identity.

The problem is that nobody has but a single identity. You're a different person when you grow up, with your parents, with siblings if any, with friends, with school mates, with house mates, with colleagues, and it varies with every gig and every place and over time. So what is it we call "identity". It's a legal fiction. A useful fiction if you're into administration, but it no more exists than does a corporation. That too is a figment of the laws.

Most of us have only a single legal identity, and those of us who know just what a pain it is when your credit card information gets abused --which in a way is also one of your "identities" that gets abused, this time your credit history-- can probably imagine that the whole model that relies on handing over all the info that makes up your legal identity all the time is a recipe for creating hell on earth.

Thus, we say, we link "identity" to "biometrics". Only one downside: You just burned your bridges. Because with any biometrics, impersonation will always be easier than recovery, because replacement is so darn hard. You don't want to get your fingerprints, your ears or your DNA changed because someone stole your identity and abused it.

There are plenty more reasons why biometrics are a future. But this single one, "it cannot work properly" for the simple reason that there is no recovery from a successful attack, ought to be more than enough already. Unless we are prepared to remove compromised identities by killing people, just to keep the system working.

Plastic surgery (1)

moxsam (917470) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224376)

You can alter the form of the ear surgically, even so that it matches another person's ear. But you can't fake another person's fingerprint that way, even altering the fingerprint surgically so that it still looks natural afterwards is impossible today.

Hear, hear, Upek! (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34224594)

What, so now I'll have to lean over and drag my EAR across that infernal thing on my laptop?

Holmes was there first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34224842)

I'm pretty sure Sherlock Holmes noticed this property about 100 years ago.

Ear Shape DOES Change (1)

Rubinstien (6077) | more than 3 years ago | (#34225070)

My youngest daughter had pointed ears when she was born (as in Elf/Spock pointy). That went away over a few months. There's still the slightest suggestion of it (she is seven, now), but it definitely did change from what she was born with.

99.6% Accuracy? (1)

Mitreya (579078) | more than 3 years ago | (#34225160)

Without reading TFA, is that even a good accuracy? I always assumed that fingerprint accuracy is better than that. Having 0.4% error rate means that it is only good for identifying customers in commercial surveys. Any security mechanism will need better than that.

Re:99.6% Accuracy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34225560)

It would also be interesting to know if that 0.4% error is false-positives or false-negatives, or both.
0.4% would mean that for every person on the no-fly list, 26.7 million people could no longer fly.
With about 8500 names on the no-fly list, anyone's ear would match to 34 names on the list, so no-one could fly at all.

Dumbest thing I've ever heard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34225670)

but overall it stays the same. It's a great way to identify people,' said Mark Nixon

HUH? Hasn't this guy ever heard of cartilage damage (cauliflower ear aka traumatic auricular hematoma).

But I can certainly see the advantages from a surveillance point of view, after all no one but a criminal would ever wear ear-muffs, stocking caps or engage in competitive athletics.


TFS - Callouses (1)

Alarindris (1253418) | more than 3 years ago | (#34225770)

I'm a full time bass player (I play with my fingers, no pick) and my callouses are pretty impressive. Every once and a while I'll get a blister under them and have to bite em off. They're about an 1/8th inch thick and I can see my finger prints just fine. Not sure what the summary is referring to.
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