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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Brainwave Security? Not Quite the Wave of the Future

An electronic security system that purportedly identifies people by monitoring the unique pattern of electrical activity within the brain is being tested by European scientists.  The system was developed by two companies - Starlab in Spain and Forenap in France - in cooperation with researchers at the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas, in Greece. It uses an established method for measuring activity in the brain, called electroencephalography (EEG).

EEG measurements identify the location and intensity of millisecond-long fluctuations in electrical activity in the brain via electrodes positioned around a person's scalp. (The person has to be wearing a wired helmet to take the measurement). Since an individual's brain activity is determined by the unique pattern of neural pathway in their brain, measuring brain activity could be used for identification, says Dimitrios Tzovaras, who is the coordinator at the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas. "So it could be a very good security control," he says.

But, separate groups studying the same technique question is reliability and practicality, for some blatant reasons. A research group at the University of Warsaw in Poland point out that the method can only identify subjects with 88% accuracy.  A biometrics researcher at the University of Cambridge is bothered by the method's invasiveness. "Wearing a wired helmet with sensors on one's scalp might change the ambiance of the workplace somewhat," he says.  Plus, stressful situations complicate the results.  "You might not want to be taken for someone else at the airport just because you had a bad night before." Full story here from NewScientistTech.com. . . [Michele Berry]

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