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The Ongoing Debate Surrounding Biometric Security

written by: Mark Muller•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/8/2011

Biometric security measures are in widespread use, yet many issues are still debated - including privacy concerns. In this article, we are going to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of biometric security measures from both a technical and a social perspective.

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    A Little Background

    Biometric systems are used for identification and authentication, measuring and comparing people’s biological and behavioral properties such as fingerprints and voice, for example. Thus, taking into consideration the definition (*) of biometrics as characteristics, all biometric processes inherently rely on biometric security measures.

    Biometric security measures can also be conceived as devices and systems which are designed to make something more secure, for instance a passport, by including a microchip containing data such as the passport owner’s facial, iris and fingerprint biometrics.

    *Check out our article on Different Uses of Biometrics!

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    The Major Pros

    The advantages of biometric security measures are that biometrics are based on the uniqueness of individual physiological properties such as distinct fingerprints to prevent impersonation, and that biometric security measures (recognition processes) are automated.

    What’s more is the ease with which biometric processes can be added to legacy security systems to make them more secure when multi-factor authentication or the “something you are, something you know and something you have" principle is required.

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    A Few of the Cons

    Biometric Passport The disadvantages of biometric security measures are that these measures could pose a risk to those individuals whose access to a facility, ATM or IT system is secured with a biometric device. Concerns are that criminals could take an eye or finger from the victim in order to steal or gain unauthorized access of some sort.

    Also, biometric devices are said to be non-cancellable. That is, body parts that are damaged, or worse, in an accident cannot be as easily replaced like a forgotten password. This is why you have to have more than one finger scanned when you enroll for fingerprint biometrics.

    In addition, privacy concerns and the fear of potential misuse of data are two main reasons why people are reluctant to adopt biometric security measures including, for example, biometric passports.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Mkt3000 dot com

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    More Fuel for the Debate Fire

    The advantages of biometric security measures largely depend on the particular technology used. People generally feel more comfortable with contactless, unobtrusive identification and authentication such as speech recognition for example. So the acceptance rate is higher than that of a retina scanner or fingerprint sensor in a public sector, which is touched by numerous people during a day.

    The performance of biometric security measures also adds to the pros and cons. A system with a low false accept rate is advantageous, and the same is true for the false reject rate. In any case, is it important to have a secondary security scenario devised and tested in case the biometric system suffers an outage over an extended period of time.

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    Biometric security measures have their advantages and disadvantages depending on viewpoint, technology under consideration and system performance. Privacy concerns and the fear of data theft and misuse of biometric information are the main factors which contribute to the cons in the perception of public opinion.

    If you want to know whether cutting off a victim's finger will trick biometric security measures, read our article What is Biometric Fingerprint Identification?


  • Author's own experience