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Biometric Identification: Ethical Issues

written by: Daniel Brecht•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 9/3/2010

There are many ethical issues that concern biometric identification. There are, however, ways to overcome them... Read on.

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    Biometric Identification Ethical Issues

    Homeland Security Using Biometrics Biometrics relies on physical or behavioral characteristics to automatically identify and verify a living person, so locating and tracking people physically is possible. Some people are concerned about biometric ethics, however. These people object to the use of biometrics and are biased against the technology. Not all people like to have a device record information about themselves. In addition, not everyone likes to be watched and have his or her movements controlled and with biometrics, that's possible.

    There are a number of ethical issues centering on biometrics, but those issues concerning privacy rights of individuals and personal identification receive the most attention. One concern is about the ownership of the stored biometric data.

    Presently, some users and businesses are hesitant about considering its implementation. People perceive biometrics as offensive and invading their dignity, rights, and space. At times, people feel untrustworthy and embarrassed. Moreover, people claim they're being dehumanized. On the other hand, people fear threatened by fraud and identity threat (i.e., having their information accessed and misused by another person, like a disgruntled worker, hacker, or thief, having their identity stolen). There is some concern about biometric systems being spoofed (i.e., the use of a fake biometric data such as fingerprints, face image or retina scans that fool the input device). Although this type of hacking is possible, biometric systems are rarely prone to this type of attack; meaning the compromising of the data is difficult, but not impossible in biometrics.

    Tip: To overcome biometric identification ethical issues, stored biometric data must be protected; there should not be any unauthorized collection, use, and retention of biometric data, and biometrics need to be deployed where most effective and appropriate.

    Other biometric ethics issues concern the usefulness of some biometric devices: there are claims that technology has only achieved limited capability to positively identify a particular individual. There are ongoing debates on whether or not all biometric devices are technically accurate, reliable, and foolproof. Security experts respond, claiming biometrics is the one technology that works best for many businesses that need to secure authentication. For these users, biometrics has been effective, reliable, and accurate. In short, they consider biometrics to be the most secure authentication method.

    Acceptance of biometric authentication is another ethical issue when used to verify the identity of personnel. However, when compared to the more traditional methods of using passwords and PINs, biometrics devices are preferred. Nowadays, there is a higher acceptance rate for biometric devices as people look to new ways to protect themselves from security threats. It appears now that public safety is beginning to override biometric ethics when it comes to identification issues.

    Fact: Compared to passwords, PINs, smartcards, and tokens (for user authentication), biometric characteristics are harder to forge and steal.

    Advice: For businesses and users looking for added security measures, it may be best to use more than one authentication method.

    The future of biometrics will play an important role for all types of businesses. Acceptance by users, cost of the technology involved, and privacy concerns have slowed down its expansion. Nevertheless, developments in the field (i.e., making biometric devices more secure and error-free) will likely overcome many of today's concerns and help make this technology the choice for the future of authentication. Biometrics will, in the end, with extra security, provide businesses and users more privacy and safety that it threatens to compromise.

    For now, there are still biometric identification ethical issues in the U.S. and in other countries as well. New developments in the field of biometrics will likely offset many biometrics ethical issues, boost acceptance, and counterbalance some of its shortcomings. Until this day comes, future users wait and remain concerned about biometric ethics as its science and technology develop.

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    Purpose of Biometric Identification Devices

    There are a number of biometric devices and organizations who use them. Law enforcement officials use biometrics as tracking systems for criminals and illegal immigrants. Facial-recognition technology is the biometric device most often used to identify criminals and for border security.

    Other than law enforcement officials, many companies (e.g., banks and airports) and organizations, like the government, homeland security, and the military utilize biometric devices to control access to sensitive data systems and areas. For example, biometrics with ID cards are used to prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing and entering secured networks and controlled spaces.

    Article of interest: See "Biometric Access Control Devices" for additional information on biometric technology, a list of characteristics of certain biometric devices, and an explanation of their importance for controlling access.

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    Resources

    1. Computerworld: Biometrics: From science fiction to business reality -http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/97979/Biometrics_From_science_fiction_to_business_reality
    2. HIDE Project: Ethical issues in biometric identification - http://www.hideproject.org/downloads/references/Alterman-A_Piece_of_yourself.pdf
    3. FindBiometrics: Biometrics - The Future In The Palm of Your Hand! - http://www.findbiometrics.com/

    Image Credit courtesy of techBiometric: Emerging Biometric Markets

Using Biometrics

Are you aware that biometric devices can identify an authorized user from one that is not? Well, they can... Each device is different, but they do have one thing in common: Biometrics considers users' physical and behavior traits to verify their identities.
  1. Biometric Devices: They Provide IT Security
  2. Biometric Access Control Devices
  3. Biometric Identification: Ethical Issues