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How Biometric Technology Will Change Privacy Forever
A paratrooper scans the iris of another using a Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, or HIIDE, system during training Jan. 10, 2012, at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. The device measures personal biometric data that allow friendly forces to identify persons of interest at a later date. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

How Biometric Technology Will Change Privacy Forever

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A paratrooper scans the iris of another using a Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, or HIIDE, system during training Jan. 10, 2012, at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. The device measures personal biometric data that allow friendly forces to identify persons of interest at a later date. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

A paratrooper scans the iris of another using a Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, or HIIDE, system during training Jan. 10, 2012, at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. The device measures personal biometric data that allow friendly forces to identify persons of interest at a later date. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Biometric technology has come a long way in the last few decades. Although it started in the late 1800s with an Argentinian who wanted to fight crime, the technology really didn’t move until the late 1900s. Once the digital age hit it became possible to store fingerprints and DNA samples for literally millions of people. Sensors and our ability to understand the human body have taken the technology to another level completely.

Biometric Technology vs. Privacy

The seemingly inevitable intersection of biometric technology and privacy is at our doorstep. Researchers at the University of Kent found evidence that a person’s heart and brain give off unique, identifying signals that are specific to that person. Imagine a world where walking through a door frame with a reader on it could identify you, and an observer would then know everything about you.

It’s Already Started

We don’t have to look too far for examples of this very thing; there are several that have already hit the news. Since 2011, police departments across the U.S. have been using the Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System (MORIS). According to scientificamerican.com, this system used on an iPhone checks fingerprints and iris scans against a centralized database. The article drives the point home: “It’s easy to replace a swiped credit card, but good luck changing the patterns on your iris.”

The security challenges of digitalized biometric data are real. This, like any other ethical issue, is a conflict of values. Both sides have merit and each side makes sense to a different segment of the population.

As Regulation Lags, Tempers Flare

As we saw with the NSA scandal, regulation in the United States just simply cannot keep up with technology. This creates regular scenarios where some new technology is possibly infringing on the privacy rights of everyday citizens but there is no case law, no measuring stick, and no way to enforce or even understand it. Then the lengthy court proceedings start. By the time it all comes out in the wash, it could be too late.

Here is a good example of a potential risk.

The FBI is actually starting to build a huge database of people’s faces. Once that is finished, the agency will theoretically be able to hook that database up to public cameras on public buildings, street lights, or anything else the state controls and constantly monitor the people in that database. Those people don’t necessarily have to have done anything wrong. Someone can get your facial recognition information on the street in a perfectly legal manner.

The problem is clear but the solution is not nearly as clear.

What To Look Out For

As we go forward with technology, specifically biometric technology, we need to make sure, as a people, that we are weighing the risks and rewards of these advances. Transparency will be one of the most critical pieces of successfully marrying biometric technology and privacy in the 21st century.

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About JeffreyNelson

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The resolution of the privacy implications is that people must have the unrestricted ability to probe government records through the prism of the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. The liberty and pursuit of happiness provisions of the Constitution and Amendments make clear that the Founders sought to protect citizens from any instrumentalities that prevent our citizens from enjoying their inalienable rights.