Biometric writing, and four ways to substantiate a claim of high biometric accuracy

I wanted to illustrate the difference between biometric writing, and SUBSTANTIVE biometric writing.

A particular company recently promoted its release of a facial recognition application. The application was touted as “state-of-the-art,” and the press release mentioned “high accuracy.” However, the press release never supported the state-of-the-art or high accuracy claims.

By Cicero Moraes – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Concentrating on the high accuracy claim, there are four methods in which a biometric vendor (facial recognition, fingerprint identification, iris recognition, whatever) can substantiate a high accuracy claim. This particular company did not employ ANY of these methods.

  • The first method is to publicize the accuracy results of a test that you designed and conducted yourself. This method has its drawbacks, since if you’re administering your own test, you have control over the reported results. But it’s better than nothing.
  • The second method is for you to conduct a test that was designed by someone else. An example of such a test is Labeled Faces in the Wild (LFW). There used to be a test called Megaface, but this project has concluded. A test like this is good for research, but there are still issues; for example, if you don’t like the results, you just don’t submit them.
  • The third method is to have an independent third party design AND conduct the test, using test data. A notable example of this method is the Facial Recognition Vendor Test series sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Yet even this test has drawbacks for some people, since the data used to conduct the test is…test data.
  • The fourth method, which could be employed by an entity (such as a government agency) who is looking to purchase a biometric system, is to have the entity design and conduct the test using its own data. Of course, the results of an accuracy test conducted using the biometric data of a local police agency in North America cannot be applied to determine the accuracy of a national passport system in Asia.

So, these are four methods to substantiate a “high accuracy” claim. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and it is possible for a vendor to explain WHY it chose one method over the other. (For example, one facial recognition vendor explained that it couldn’t submit its application for NIST FRVT testing because the NIST testing design was not compatible with the way that this vendor’s application worked. For this particular vendor, methods 1 and 4 were better ways to substantiate its accuracy claims.)

But if a company claims “high accuracy” without justifying the claim with ANY of these four methods, then the claim is meaningless. Or, it’s “biometric writing” without substantiation.