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Poland has become the first country in Europe to introduce a network of "finger vein ID" cash machines, with 2,000 of the new ATMs opening in bank branches and supermarkets across the country this year.
A person's finger effectively becomes the "chip" on a conventional bank card, as the infrared device reads the unique vein pattern just below the skin surface of a finger or the back of a hand. Some Japanese banks also use the technology as a security measure which allows – or prevents – customers from accessing safety deposit boxes in branches. Its proponents claim it is more accurate than fingerprinting devices, and as reliable as iris-reading technology.
Hitachi Europe, which is behind the Polish ATMs, stressed that it is not about reading fingerprints. "Near-infra-red light is transmitted through the finger and partially absorbed by haemoglobin in the veins to capture a unique finger vein pattern profile, which is then matched with a pre-registered profile to verify individual identity," it says.
The experts say that vein recognition is a more secure technology than fingerprint scanning, with the readers incorporating a "liveness" detection feature to ensure that a real hand is presented. That might also assuage macabre concerns that thieves would hack off a person's finger to ransack cash from their bank account. The infra-red readers are cheaper than iris scans, but there are concerns that with the technology at a relatively early stage of development, no one knows what will happen to veins as people age.
According to Hitachi, vein patterns are established in the womb and are stable throughout the rest of a person's life. Spokesman Pete Jones said: "They are a physiological feature that is established in the mother's womb. As the person grows, they remain the same. Even if someone becomes very overweight, all that happens is that the pattern scales up. We have been researching this technology for 15 years and found it to be very stable."