The field of biometrics has advanced quickly and significantly in recent years, but not nearly as much as Hollywood would have you believe. Between movies like Mission Impossible and television shows like CSI: (Stock Quote: VIA), you probably think biometrics is a lot further along than it truly is. Sure, this science has come a long way, but it’s got a heck of a lot further to go to catch up with our  imaginations.

So what is biometrics, anyway? Biometrics is the science of recognizing individuals using biological and behavioral characteristics. Take fingerprints, for example. Fingerprints are biological characteristics that law enforcement agencies use to identify people.

Recently, biometrics has expanded into the workplace. Most applications of biometrics at work are for access management. For example, a fingerprint impression or retinal scan might be needed to access a certain restricted area or a restricted program. But there are other applications. Biometric time clocks are a relatively new arrival that use retinal (or iris) scans and fingerprint readings to track employee attendance.

Fingerprinting and eye scans are not the only types of biometrics being used today, however. Hand geometry (which measures the unique dimensions of a hand), palm impressions, voice verification and facial recognition are all biometric technologies either in use or in active development.

Biometric technologies seem very futuristic, and the truth is, it will probably be well into the future before most of them are perfected. Most biometric technologies today have serious limitations. Facial recognition, for example, is not nearly as advanced as you might think. As it is, the technology is highly affected by lighting, angle and the quality of the image. High-confidence matches are rare. Even fingerprint technologies can be fooled by those in the know. The science hasn’t yet gotten to the point where it can be trusted beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Biometrics also poses its share of ethical dilemmas. Do you really want all your biological information out there? Let’s say sometime in the future surveillance cameras were equipped with facial recognition. Could your whereabouts be tracked as you moved? Who would have access to that information? Apart from the technological limitations, the ethical implications of biometrics in the workplace are far reaching.

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