Biometric Technology and Privacy Protection: Is Your Information Safe?

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Biometric Technology and Privacy Protection: Is Your Information Safe?

Biometric verification, more commonly known as biometrics, is slowly being integrated into our everyday lives. Nowadays, its use is no longer limited to high security applications such as airport check-ins and financial transactions. It is now being used as a foolproof security measure for everything, from our homes down to our smartphones. We use it for tracking time and attendance at work, for restricting entry to our homes and even certain rooms within our home, or as a faster and easier means of locking and unlocking our mobile devices in place of passwords.

But despite the convenience of biometric technology, one can’t help but raise concerns about its safety when it comes to keeping our private details and information secure. After all, every time you use voice, iris, fingerprint, or face recognition on a device, these details are recorded and stored in a database. And as with anything that can be accessed online, these databases are susceptible to hacking, which can result in unexpected privacy breaches.

What is Biometrics?

Derived from the Greek words “bio” which means life, and “metrics” which means measure, biometrics is a method of recognition and verification using one’s individual anatomical characteristic such as facial features, fingerprints, palm veins, ears, irises, voices, heartbeats, and DNA. Using one or more of these characteristics, biometric technology makes it possible to accurately authenticate a person’s identity, thereby making it useful for security, access control, and surveillance.

The use of biometrics was traced to have been around since 30,000 years ago with prehistoric cavemen leaving their handprints on the walls alongside what is believed to be their artwork. And around 500 B.C. Babylonian businessmen used it in the form of fingerprints to document their transactions.

Biometrics: Then and Now

Law enforcement authorities have used digital biometrics for identification purposes since the 1980s, but the use of fingerprinting in criminal identification and cataloging for over a century. Over the years, biometrics expanded to other applications within government and corporate organizations. It wasn’t until the last decade or so that biometric technology became available for the consumption of regular consumers. In 2011, Motorola released the Atrix 4G smartphone, which came with a fingerprint scanner. Two years later, Apple launched the iPhone 5s, which was the first smartphone model from the company that offered fingerprint verification for unlocking the phone or for authenticating App Store and iTunes Store purchases.

It’s no surprise that many other companies have been following suit. Google also launched Project Abacus, which allows you to disregard the need for passwords. It will be using a monitoring technology to track your voice, location patterns, sleep patterns, movement patterns, and facial symmetry. All of this information will then be used as your means of identification instead of a password.

Mastercard, in partnership with Canadian biometrics company Nymi, also came up with a technology which uses your heartbeat data to authenticate your credit card transactions.

Talk about making sure you’re shopping with intent.

Is the Technology Secure?

One of the main reasons why biometric technology continues to be utilized by government sectors, private corporations, and many other industries is the fact that it makes use of information that is unique to an individual, therefore making it more difficult to replicate. However, it may be argued that due to certain advancements in technology, one can easily hack into a database and steal biometric information.

But despite these possible security threats, certain fields are still keen on using biometric technology for their operations—particularly the police. In fact, in 2015, the FBI rolled out a facial recognition system project that aimed to gather images (in the form of mug shots, photos collected from background investigations, CCTV footage, or photos submitted by other people) and compile them all in a database. This database also aims to include retina scans and 170 million fingerprints from foreigners from the Department of Homeland Security.

Rumor has it that an ear recognition biometric technology will also be adopted, although it is said to still be in the testing stage.

By the looks of it, the future of biometric technology seems promising. And although there are still safety and security concerns regarding its use, it cannot be denied that the development of biometric technology will be helpful in managing our overall personal and national security more effectively.