August 21st, 2015

The Use of Biometrics vs. Growing Privacy Concerns

Although excellent for security and convenience, biometrics is a hot topic due to its evident invasion of consumer privacy. Biometrics refers to the application of innovative technology to detect and recognize human biology and behavior. The technology can recognize and verify fingerprints, the eye retina and iris, face structure, voices, hand geometry, personal signatures, keystroke dynamics and facial gestures to name a few.

Further, businesses prefer biometrics since it is very accountable, easy to use, it can save time, ensure expected hours are worked by reducing “buddy punching”, and produce lower administrative costs. Many companies have implemented this technology (with more to follow), prominently using it for authentication, for building and secure area entry and access to bank accounts and entitlement services.

While these human characteristic scanners used to only be operated by military and high-tech companies, now the biometric technology has become commonplace, even appearing in schools and hospitals. Traditional methods to secure applications include smart cards, passcodes, and PIN numbers; however the unparalleled advantage of biometrics is that they are intrinsically linked to the person.

On the other hand, this becomes its major downfall: risk of privacy breach. Those using biometric scanners in the workplace often fear their data could be used for other purposes than it was intended; for example, fingerprints can be checked against forensic databases or face images could be used for surveillance. The escalating fear that personal data capture opens the door to high-stake crime is partially justified in that, unlike a credit card, biometric data cannot be cancelled or replaced; however, most systems don’t store data in an image or recording, but in a mathematical representation of the characteristic that is then transformed by an algorithm to create an authorization code.

Biometric technology is not dangerous to use nor easy to hack, and most users even prefer biometrics for its incredible advantages. Steria surveys show that 69 percent of European citizens support the use of biometrics in identity cards or passports, and 45 percent of Europeans are in favor of using biometrics to replace PIN numbers for bank cards, both high numbers for this major alteration.

Biometry is a powerful technology, with the ability to facilitate business processes and enhance security; however, steps must be taken to ensure consumer privacy. To avoid common risks, is imperative that companies do not store biometric data in unsecure cloud solutions or offer the information to third party users. Employees should be notified, in writing, of the company’s intent of using the biometric system, and strict policies and procedures should be implemented to ensure the security of the biometric data.

As far as which biometric system to place in your business, it is best to choose hand geometry scanners and fingerprint scanners for small and medium sized companies, since they are the most antique devices, therefore less prone to privacy rights violations than facial or iris scanning. Furthermore, it is important to educate employees on the system and remind them of the security advantages associated with biometric technology to calm privacy concerns and fortify company trust.

As with any innovative technology, biometrics has and will present business challenges, but these tools can moreover create extraordinary new opportunities.

Is your company using biometrics today? Do you have a story around the pros and cons of biometrics that you would like to share? We would love to hear from you. Send us a quick message to discuss further!

Agathe Caffier, Senior Counsel, International Operations & Privacy Specialist

 

Tags: privacy security

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