Nose Biometrics


Since they are hard to conceal, the study says, noses would work well for identification in covert surveillance.

The researchers say noses have been overlooked in the growing field of biometrics, studies into ways of identifying distinguishing traits in people.

“Noses are prominent facial features and yet their use as a biometric has been largely unexplored,” said the University of Bath’s Dr Adrian Evans.

“Ears have been looked at in detail, eyes have been looked at in terms of iris recognition but the nose has been neglected.”

The researchers used a system called PhotoFace, developed by researchers at the University of the West of England, Bristol and Imperial College, London, for the 3D scans.

Posted on March 10, 2010 at 1:47 PM43 Comments


mcb March 10, 2010 2:59 PM

Great. Now we can add noses to the list of biometric signature sources the movie plot bad guys will be hacking off (thumbs, fingers, hands, & heads) or scooping out (eyes) in order to gain unauthorized access.

Peter A. March 10, 2010 3:00 PM

This may have quite a good use as a (covert or overt) surveillance tool but much less as an authentication method.

It is as problematic in implemetation as most other biometrics yet much easier to subvert.

ac March 10, 2010 3:12 PM

I wonder if I can get this working with my laptop’s fingerprint scanner? I hate having to take my hands off the steering wheel.

Chuck March 10, 2010 3:17 PM

The Chicago police force has been ahead of the game it appears…

From Due South’s Pilot episode (via

[Fraser and Ray are standing in Lt. Walsh's office after a gun fight broke out in a bar]
Lt. Walsh: One solid oak bar, sixteen tables, twelve chairs, one etched mirror, six by nine, one antique pool table, two doors, thirty-two bottles of liquor, and a Pabst Blue Ribbon neon clock. Does this seem like a fairly accurate list of the damages, Detective Vecchio?
Ray Vecchio: I don't believe the pool table was an antique, sir.
Lt. Walsh: Oh, well we'll never know now, will we? Because all that's left is this bag of felt.
Ray: I sought refuge behind the item in question when the suspect pointed a shot gun in my direction and fired repeatedly, sir.
Lt. Walsh: Suspect. I'm glad we finally got around to that because I would hate to think we were responsible for all this damage without a very good reason. You say you identified him by his nose?
Ray: Yes, sir.
Lt. Walsh: You didn't say something about his nose, causing him to fire repeatedly into the bar?
Ray: Ah, no sir.
Lt. Walsh: You just felt that his nose was so offensive that you decided to pursue and arrest him?
Ray: Captain, the suspect is a known felon and you see, I had this hunch that--
Lt. Walsh: You had a hunch? [laughs] A hunch! And you coupled your hunch with with your positive identification of his nose? And this was the basis of your investigation? An investigation which resulted in injury of seven people, three with gun shot wounds, two with broken limbs, one hospitalized with a concussion, and one who claims to have been bitten by a wolf.
Ray: The wolf was just trying to help, sir.
Lt. Walsh: [sarcastically] They usually are! 

Shane March 10, 2010 3:26 PM

What minds… would choose to even *begin research on using one of the least static physical features of the human body as a viable biometric identifier?

People change noses like they do handbags nowadays, to say nothing of noses breaking, nostrils flaring, molded flesh-colored putty, etc et al. WTH are these folks thinking?

Virosa March 10, 2010 3:26 PM

I wonder if it hasn’t been explored because of the number of false negatives that would be likely over a lifetime. Your nose keeps growing, and one boxing mishap can noticeably change its appearance. Your eye spacing and iris vasculature don’t change over time.

Smersh March 10, 2010 3:29 PM

I hope the research is not funded by BBBofC, because they’d be setting themselves up for one of those “works in theory, not in practice” cases.

Will color be added to one of the traits to identify politicians by their brown shade?

Mitch March 10, 2010 3:31 PM

A few observations.
-Burqas become a problem. Not so with most other biometric factors.
-Noses & ears are cartalige, and thus never stop growing. Your nose is changing as you read this.
-Need a new ID for a few days? Get someone to punch your nose, and you have a new (swolen) ID.
-Plastic surgery, as mentioned by others.

I don’t see this as a real, workable solution.

jgreco March 10, 2010 3:49 PM

Heck, all I have to do is stuff cotton balls up my nose to change my biometric fingerprint then… or for that matter just get a cold.

@Mitch “Your nose is changing as you read this.”

That is quite possibly the creepiest thing I’ve read all day.

Michael March 10, 2010 3:52 PM

Nose biometrics overlooked? Not in cows it hasn’t! Cows are well known to have individual nose-prints, and a quick google for “cow nose prints” can back me up.

a. March 10, 2010 4:12 PM

The noses grow from when one is a baby until they are old. So how often would the ‘noseprint’ or shape need updating?
What if one has a plastic surgery? A bad cold? Allergies? Or does boxing..?

spaceman spiff March 10, 2010 6:21 PM

So, if you get a nose job, do you have to re-apply for all your ID’s, such as passport, driver’s license, etc?

Paul Johnson March 11, 2010 3:35 AM

There is an old Far Side cartoon about this: if I recall correctly it shows a bunch of people working on computers with gizmos strapped over their faces, except for one guy, and the supervisor is saying “Come on Henderson, you know that nose scanning is our best defence against unauthorised intrusions”.

yt March 11, 2010 3:39 AM

@Paul Johnson: when you mentioned Far Side, the first thing that came to mind for me was the one about “Mr. Potato Head picks his nose” with Mr. Potato Head surrounded by shelves full of noses to choose from.

bob March 11, 2010 3:48 AM

To all those bitching about plastic surgery, etc: “noses would work well for identification in covert surveillance” This is suggested as a way of identifying people who are being watched. Not as a method of authenticating oneself to the bank manager.

A nonny bunny March 11, 2010 5:08 AM

“-Noses & ears are cartalige, and thus never stop growing. Your nose is changing as you read this.”

I don’t think this is actually true. But feel free to give a pointer to research that shows it is.

Ian Campbell March 11, 2010 6:27 AM

Just as an interesting (to me) historical sidenote, nose biometrics were one of the measures that Belgian colonists used to classify Rwandans into the Tutsi and Hutu populations during colonial times.

Craig March 11, 2010 7:15 AM

I couldn’t believe the title when I saw this the other day, so just had to read it.

Is this not from the ‘Onion’ in relation to the post a few days ago 🙂

Clive Robinson March 11, 2010 11:04 AM

Hey think of the research grant, that’s money not to be sniffed at…

And I just feel this old song coming over me,

Nobody Nose the trouble I’ve seeh,
Nobody knows my swallow,
Nobody Nose the trouble I’ve screened,
Gory Hal will lose yer.

(With apps to Paul Robson).

DayOwl March 11, 2010 11:23 AM

Can’t resist (and can’t believe it hasn’t already been posted):

Lends new meaning to “cutting off your nose to spite your face”…

In a short term surveillance situation, the idea may have merit. Sort of a video analytic shortcut. It depends on recent, accurate information. As a supportive tool, it could be useful.

AnonObviously March 11, 2010 11:59 AM


Unintended, perhaps, but you’ve left me with a very difficult-to-purge image in my mind and wondering how static & unique the images from, er, “down there” might be.

Certainly with today’s surveillance society we’re already taking it in the …

Joe V March 11, 2010 4:46 PM

I wonder what they would do with an airport full of people wearing the Groucho Marx nose/mustache/black glasses disguise?

Morgan Storey March 11, 2010 5:39 PM

I have never liked biometrics, you can’t reissue a compromised thumb or eye. And if your life is threatened it is an easier choice to hand over toughpassword01 than your nose, thumb, hand, or simply they kidnap you to get what they want.

Hey Nony Mouse March 12, 2010 5:44 PM

@ Arclight,

“So is there a “Streisand Index” associated with this new biometric?

I think it’s the “Manalow – Streisand index” adjusted by the “Babs and Barry septrum coefficient”.

Clive Robinson March 16, 2010 12:18 AM

@ tensor,

‘… and no one has made a “nose knows” pun.’

Yes they have,

“eyed have thought you would have spotted it”…

Pete Austin March 17, 2010 10:17 AM

Re: “The research is based on a study of 40 noses and the data base has now been expanded to 160”.

Total fail. I’d expect almost any barmy biometrics method to work with such small numbers.

Malvolio March 18, 2010 1:48 PM

Miles: “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! In six months, we’ll be stealing Erno’s nose! Don’t you see? Political solutions never work!”

(Maybe this is an early April Fool’s joke.)

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.