Biometrics has been used by the government, law enforcement, and other agencies for years – fingerprinting, for example, is an example of using unique human characteristics for identification. Even such features as a person’s hair color, eye color, and height count as biometric identifiers. While it sounds like something from the future, biometrics in itself isn’t new to us.
However, biometric technology is increasing at a rapid pace, and there are many other identifiers that agencies are experimenting with using on a widespread basis. For example, retina or iris scanning is widely used by the government, and it could be implemented in public, such as with ATMs, in the not-so-distant future. Although some types of biometric data, like DNA, can be used as an essentially foolproof way of identifying someone and maintaining access security, is it too invasive? Could your privacy, and even your identity, be at risk?
Biometrics – Going Too Far?
One of the main privacy concerns about biometrics is that it can be used to determine much more about a person than their identity. Retina and iris scanning can be used as a way to medically identify certain diseases and conditions such as certain types of cancer (ex. leukemia), hereditary diseases (ex. sickle cell anemia), communicable diseases (ex. AIDS), and health conditions (ex. congestive heart failure). Full-body scanning technology could identify a tumor. In cases like this, the agency collecting the biometric data (like your bank) would know much more about you than just your identity.
More Privacy Concerns
Biometrics could also invade an individual’s privacy by identifying them when they do not want to be identified and/or have a reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, biometrics could be used to identify someone in a public place or a crowd when security access is not being sought. The government or organizations that have your biometric data would be able to use it in many different ways, including sharing it with other governments or agencies.
Could biometric data that is supposed to be unique to everyone actually be a threat to your identity? Many types of biometrics, like iris scanning and DNA scanning, have an extremely low, almost nonexistent, rate of false positives or false negatives. That said, what happens if someone’s data is altered in the database, or if something causes their physical appearance to change (such as astigmatism in the eyes)? In these cases, your identity is at risk for being lost to you, because you’d be unable to prove your identity without a doubt.
With such sensitive, personal information about yourself available in a database, there is always the concern that someone could use it to impersonate you – even if it would require much more sophisticated means than simply falsified paperwork. In the worst-case scenario, your safety could be at risk of thieves who now physically need you, rather than just your key for example, to take what they want.
With any type of technology, there are always risks and concerns to go along with the positives. While biometrics is incredibly advanced and hard to fake, it does not mean your privacy and identity are entirely safe.
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