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How Do Biometrics Affect Privacy?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Information Technology
Wordcount: 2528 words Published: 3rd May 2017

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The research question for this essay is going to be how Biometrics affects Privacy. This particular question is chosen because in the increasing number of biometrics systems that are emerging, which has increased the risk of invading privacy. The issue that is going to be discussed in this paper is that how increasing biometrics technology has raised concerns in relation to the protection of individual privacy and has the government took biometric technology a step too far in invading privacy. This issue is important because as more and more biometric technology comes into use, the protection of privacy is going to be taken away and individuals have a right to keep certain information about themselves anonymous and have the “right to be left alone”. The argument is that how can the government collect biometrics of individuals without having too much information, and unnecessary information. Businesses and organisations that hold information about their employees and other individuals, surely must be concerning on how safe the information is and how the business uses this information for the right reasons.

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Biometrics is being used more frequently in everyday life, they are used for verification as after 9/11 security has been tightened and more checks on people are being undertaken. More checks mean that more information is needed about individuals including biometric information, this leads to a whole new topic of should organisation should be allowed to collect biometric data? Is this not a step too far? All this talk about biometrics being used in various places, but what is biometrics? Biometrics is the collection of personal data such as fingerprints, iris, retina, voice, hand geometry etc. All these characteristics are stored on a centralised database where they can identify people who are criminals. This type of technology is used mostly everywhere now with the aim to cut down on crime. Biometrics are being used more by organisations and governments, because biometrics is “accurate discrimination between individuals,

Over the years, Biometric Technology has been considered as a measure of the highest security method. The primary reason for the use of biometric technology is to cut down on criminal activities, as Dr Ann Cavoukian says in the journal Privacy and Biometrics, that finger prints are used by the police to identify criminals. This, some would say is a encouraging move in order to prevent criminal activities, but on the other hand some would raise the question that, is biometric technology a step too far in invading individual’s privacy?. The increasing use of Biometrics has raised concerns regarding individual privacy, as Prabhakar says in the journal Biometric Recognition: Security and Privacy Concerns “Those who desire to remain anonymous in any particular situation could be denied their privacy by biometric recognition”. Individuals have the right to protect their privacy and have control of what information others should have about them, in the paper Privacy and or as Freedom, Gos Hosein, says “individuals must be allowed to choose what information is made available about themselves, and under which circumstances”. Biometrics however, does not allow individuals to have an option on what information may be stored, as the databases have individuals, fingerprints, hand geometry, iris and also voice, many major companies have individual’s personal details, but knowing that your personal features are stored away on a database can be somewhat of a concern. These concerns are all valid, as all this information can be hacked, or even leaked. Billy Hawkes, Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland said that “Personal information might be shared with third parties, with or without a person’s knowledge”. There are always high risks, when personal information is stored of many millions of individuals, the main issue that concerns many people is that how safe is this information.

Biometrics is used as a source of identification and verification by the police against criminals. Fingerprints are the most common use for indentifying criminals and the use of fingerprints date back to 1879, where a French policeman named Alphonse Bertillon suggested “that people could be precisely identified by carefully measuring different parts of the body”, but apart from fingerprints other types of biometrics are also used such as retina, iris and voice prints. All this information put together can create a “personal profile” of individual. The more extensive use of biometrics has caused privacy issues where there are organisations holding vast amount of data about individuals that may not be needed, in which case people should have control on what information is being stored and for what reason. People do not have a say on what information can be stored or not, there should be a law that individuals should have a right and a say on what information can be stored. Organisations having this information about people, suggests that there is someone always keeping an eye on people and tracking their every move. This brings in the topic of “big Brother”. In the UK there up as many as 4.2million CCTV camera’s, that’s equivalent one camera per 14 individuals, which mean that “each person in the country is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily”. This statistics show that people in UK are being caught on CCTV up to 300 times a day, this affects individuals privacy in a huge manner, as the images captured on CCTV, they are stored on a database where the police can use the images to solve crimes. But the question here is should the capturing of images and storing them on databases be allowed? Most privacy advocates would be against this but people are who are for more security and crack down on crime wouldn’t therefore mind these databases storing images.

The increase in modern technology these days allows biometrics to uniquely indentify individuals. The ability of biometrics technology to do this has raised concerns regarding privacy even more than before. More and more biometrics is being used in everyday life, for example biometrics are use in school, colleges and organisations. By the use of biometrics in this way, individuals are likely to be monitored more and more.

Biometrics affects privacy in a huge way, that it has made people and privacy advocates wonder that is there such thing as privacy in the modern day, with all the new technology evolving. The question many people are asking is that, can biometrics be used in such a way that it doesn’t affect individual’s privacy? Ann Cavoukian suggested that for authentication, there is no need to store biometrics on a centralised database; the individuals can be giving a card, which has a template of their biometrics stored on the card and it is on the hands on the individual, “A template could be stored on a card, in possession of the individual, thereby putting the control over access in the hand of the data subject”. This will reduce the threat of invasion in privacy considerably, since more biometrics data will be in the hands of the individuals and the thought of having that personal information about them with them, will make the public feel safer. Identity cards are due to be introduced in the UK either in 2011 or 2012. These cards will contain 2 fingerprints and a photo which will be encoded on a chip which will be on the cards itself. This method will be regarded as being safer by the public, as they will have their own biometrics with themselves and the information that is in the databases will be the same as the information that is stored on the chip. This will determine that only minimum information is known to other people. There are also drawbacks to this practise, as the identity card can be lost or stolen, which means that the persons biometrics are in the hands of someone else.

Heathrow airport has launched the use of fingerprint recognition, when terminal 5 was opened back in 2008. This will be used to make sure that the right passengers are boarding the flight as well as being photographed. Is all this really necessary? For years airports have used passports for verification, so what is the need to use biometrics, collect personal information and invade people privacy. David Millward and Gordan Rayner said in the Telegraph that gathering personal information “will make innocent people feel like criminals”. Launching fingerprint recognition systems at airports is by all means breaching all rights to privacy for individual people. The fact of passengers being photographed when entering the airport and storing the images on their database in wrong, because passengers may not give permission for their photo being taken and storing them on the database. There is always a risk of these images and biometric information getting in the hands of the wrong people.

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There is always going to be that threat of privacy being invaded by various organisations and everyday activities. After all these threats to individual’s privacy and personal information, where does this leave privacy in respect to individuals? Well, many people would say that all these organisations and government having personal information and also storing biometrics, leads to the individuals having no sort of privacy what so ever. In the paper Privacy and or as Freedom written by hoesin gus, there is a quote from William Pitt saying “There are many other ways of defining privacy. In an early form, as me moved towards modern democratic systems of governance, privacy was considered as a protection from invasion.” Privacy has come a long way over the years and still it continues to increase in terms of individual privacy. As the years have gone on privacy has got out of hand, in terms of what information should organisations and governments have about individuals. There is some information that should be kept with the individual. Should organisations be allowed the have as much information as they wish? Or only information that they require? Information regarding individuals can be potentially dangerous because that information can be passed on to the wrong hands which can lead to identity theft.

Biometric Technology has come a long way in terms of authentication and recognition, the question is that is are these systems safe. To build biometric systems the design of it has to be very good and a very safe system. Some say that biometrics is neither good nor bad for privacy, it’s how the public view privacy, and some people would be in favour of biometrics systems and some people would be against biometrics. According to Timothy Pilgrim, “Biometric technologies are not inherently good or bad for privacy. They become good or bad for privacy depending on how they are designed, developed and deployed.” Timothy Pilgrim suggests that biometrics is neither good nor bad for privacy, because it depends on how these systems are used and what people make of it. Biometrics has always been a subject of controversy, on how will it be used and how the information will be stored. The opinion on biometrics seems to be divided according to Pilgrim. The use of biometrics is bring piloted in the UK in the form of Identity cards. These identity cards will be handed out to every individual who live in the UK. These ID cards will have a chip on them that will hold personal information also including biometrics of that person. This is a good way of keeping biometric information safe, as this card will be in the possession of the individuals so they can keep their personal information safe. But the drawback is that if that card gets lost, or stolen then others will have your information. Are ID cards a step in the right direction in terms of biometrics? Well it’s a start, as the individuals will have their own information with them, as in the past that has not been an option. This ID card is said to be “similar in look to a UK driving licence but holds more data, including two fingerprints and a photograph encoded on a chip”

Privacy is a sensitive subject over many years and the introduction of biometrics has not helped the case. Collecting biometric information has caused a lot of controversy in the world. Is it right to collect people biometric information and store it without their permission? Most people would say no and would protest about the fact that the governments and organisations are carrying out this activity. In 2001 at a superbowl game in Florida, they used facial recognition biometrics to identify known criminals and terrorists. This action has been introduced after the September 9, 2001 attacks. After that the biometric industry has been “booming” according to Privacy Today: A Review of Current (2002).


Biometrics is used all over the world now, from airport security to verification for an employer in an organisation. Biometrics is a part of life that is going to continue. Collecting personal information of individuals could not get any worse. Individuals have a right to protect their privacy, which include documents and their biometrics. As technology increases, biometrics will play a major part in authentication and identification. But collecting all this information and using biometrics for the above reason causes serious privacy issues. The individual’s data is in the hands of someone else and there is always a risk of that information getting leaked and falling in to the wrong hands. There are a lot of disadvantages in using biometric technology, a lot of things have to be considered when using fingerprint and face recognition. Using these techniques can invade individual’s personal space and collecting too much personal information about individuals is not respecting their privacy. Biometrics has come a long way in terms of security and will continue to expand and used more around the world. All these biometrics being used, what can be done to protect individuals? How can information about individuals be more protected, this is a area which people need to think about, personal information about individuals should be kept with them and shouldn’t be shared within organisations. So what does this mean for biometrics and privacy? Well the use of biometrics is going to increase, and is going to be used is most public places, how can organisations keep a balance between using and collecting personal information and respecting people’s privacy. In this article the topic of privacy has been discussed, and how biometrics is invading individual’s personal space, by collecting personal information about them. To conclude, biometrics has its advantages, by catching known criminals and cutting down on terrorism, but at the cost of all this is to invade people privacy and personal space.


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