Tan was born in Hunan Province, China, in 1964. He was educated in Xi'an Jiaotong University in 1984. In 1989, he received his PhD in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Imperial College London.
Tan joined University of Reading, UK, as a research fellow after his Ph.D. In 1998, he returned to China. He joined Chinese Academy of Sciences as a professor at the Institute of Automation. He was a Vice President at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2013–2014). His research focuses on biometrics and pattern recognition. He was former President of the IEEE Biometrics Council. He is also the editor-in-chief of the International Journal on Automation and Computing. He is an adjunct professor at University of Science and Technology of China. He was sanctioned by the US Government on 16 July 2021 under Executive Order 13936.
- "Career scientist and cybersecurity expert appointed deputy chief of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, South China Morning Post, 2016".
- "Biography of Tan Tieniu".
- "IEEE Biometrics Council History".
- "Adjunct Professor Tan Tieniu, USTC, China".
- Jennifer Hansler. "US issues sanctions, warns businesses of risks in China and Hong Kong as Beijing promises to 'respond strongly'". CNN. Retrieved 2021-07-16.
- "Stars of industry and academia elected to the Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Academy of Engineering, 2014".