Your Ear Noise as Computer Password


There was an interesting little story a few days ago in the London Telegraph about University of Southampton researchers discovering that they can identify individuals from the faint sounds, called otoacoustic emissions, inside a person's ears. The researchers are now trying to use that knowledge to develop biometric security devices.

For instance, to sign on to a computer, the story says, all you would have to do is put on a headset. It also suggests that iPods and cell phones could be outfitted with an acoustic biometric security device to prevent their use by anyone other than a registered user.

Dr Stephen Beeby is leading the engineering effort at the University of Southampton to perfect the technology. It apparently works in the lab; now the the effort is to make it work in the real world.

Nothing was said about it in the story, but do your otoacoustic emissions change if you have a head cold? Are the emissions ear-specific? Also, do the emissions change with a person's skull development? Anyone know?

I also wonder about the potential uses of the technology given the current UK government's compulsion to create databases (some 35 of them now) containing different personal information on UK citizens. It would not surprise me in the least to learn that there is someone in government right now trying to figure out: (a) how to exploit a person's otoacoustic emissions for intelligence gathering and surveillance purposes; (b) how soon a database could be developed of a person's otoacoustic emissions and what it would cost, and; (c) how to develop the legal justifications - based on the need to protect the security of public, of course - for the creation of such a database.

For instance, a Telegraph story in February told of the UK National Health Service (NHS) piloting an "otoacoustic emission test" to identify babies with hearing problems. If a person's otoacoustic emissions don't change with age, then I can easily foresee a day when the "hearing test" will also be used to register a baby's unique otoacoustic emissions with the UK government.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City