Once a scientific fiction, today we are already accustomed to using our biometric identifiers for a vast variety of actions without even giving it much thought. Unlocking devices, signing transactions, tracking your health are only a few of the many useful applications of this technology, and its development will only gain speed.
However, it has also brought us a number of technical and ethical challenges that come hand-in-hand with the advantages that biometrics gave us. In this article, SOLVVE will guide you through the key concerns and benefits of using highly-personalised identifiers.
Storage and security
First of all, as it is always the case with data and information, it needs storage. On the one hand, there is an issue with the volume of data: as technological progress gains speed, we pile up manifold more all sorts of information day-to-day than we ever could imagine. Thus, we need more and more scalable storage and transfer capacities to handle it. Biometric identifiers are not an exception.
On the other hand, there are ever-pressing security issues. For better or worth, society and service providers have learned the hard way what it costs to store any kind of information securely. From banking transaction frauds to blackmailing with private photos – poor security practices have led to huge financial losses to companies and mental health or image damages to individuals.
Now, when it comes to biometrics, service providers that utilize the technology are under huge pressure to store and protect data that is not that easy to restore. Moreover, should it fall in the wrong hands, the consequences can be dramatic as biometric identifiers are exclusive and hyper-personalized. Which leads to the issues of privacy.
The above-mentioned hyper-personalization and the uniqueness of the biometric identifiers raise ethical questions of one’s privacy.
Let us say you agreed to give away your facial identifiers to create credentials for secure access to your deposit vault. Oftentimes, the bank is in charge of protecting this data by the contract. The bank will need your explicit consent to take, store, and use your unique biometric identifiers exclusively within the agreed scope.
At the same time, the very same information might be taken and used without your permission. For example, the Verge reports London Metropolitan Police is utilizing the facial recognition system to find people who are on the watch list from the crowd. The massive CCTV system in London will scan thousands of faces daily comparing them to the predefined list. Yet, the consent of every person permanently living or temporarily visiting the city is not required.
Tracking locations and behavior
Trisha Ray of the Diplomat raises the issue of the new citizenship in a disciplining paternalistic state where biometric identifiers are used to “mold the behavior”. For example, if you do not want to be caught on CCTV in London, technically no one can force you to appear in front of the cameras. However, that would mean that you are automatically deprived of the opportunity to visit the city, have access to whatever you might need to do there, or participate in the local society.
In some cases, refusing to give up your biometric identifiers means automatic denial of access. You might not want to give up your fingerprint, but by opting-out you lose your entry rights to a number of countries as immigration systems heavily rely on biometric data for security checks and personal identification.
In a more serious case, your data can be used to push you into certain behaviors. In China, if caught jaywalking, you might be publicly shamed: your picture will appear on big screens along with part of your personal information or be ready to find your picture posted by the police on social media. Again, this is the system where your consent is irrelevant and opting out is not an option.
However, it is not all gray and gloom. While some of the issues persist, let us not forget the positive changes that biometric identifiers have brought to our lives.
Convenience and speed
There is no doubt that biometrics helped us make a quantum leap in user experience. What once seemed like a high-tech distant future became trivial today. Face recognition to unlock a smartphone, fingerprint recognition to verify a bank transaction, palm scan to open a door, voice recognition to dial a telephone number, you name it.
Today we interact with our devices and technologies with such simplicity that it is easy to forget how futuristic they seemed a generation ago and how much effort was actually needed to call someone from another country no further than three decades ago.
Digitalization and the use of biometric identifiers, in particular, save us tons of man-hours by shortening the verification procedures and narrowing the corridor for possible frauds. Faking a fingerprint or a voice is much harder than forging a handwritten signature or a stamp.
We are spared from queuing in banks for money transfers or opening a deposit with piles of papers. We track our vital signs in real time with fitness trackers transitioning to preventive care faster than ever. The list could go on and on. The society of today is dependable on the precision and speed of the biometrics for daily efficiency.
While ethical issues remain unresolved, the facts stay unchanged – biometrics grants us the highest possible security levels so far. No matter how much providers insist on strong passwords, “password”, “qwerty”, and “123456” have been the top-3 on the list of the most popular passwords since 2011. Biometrical identifiers might not be 100% foolproof, but at least they fight the human factor to a much larger extent.
Moreover, with tokenization, there is no need to store data in one place (decentralization) or even transfer the original information. Tokens are one-time identifiers connected to your original data and masking it. Widely used for online banking, the same principles can be applied to biometric identifiers as well, granting better protection of one’s sensitive data. It is also possible to combine several biometric identifiers (multi-factoring). For example, a fingerprint and a voice signature.
As you can see, the core of the current issues and challenges lies among the three key aspects of the technology: the benefits of using biometric identifiers, the necessity of using them, and the proportionality of its application. Caught between these challenges, technology nevertheless has already become an integral part of our lives. We are yet to see how biometrics will shape our future.
If you have ideas about how to contribute to this change using biometric identifiers in your product or service, do not hesitate to contact us. Let us make this happen!