Ethical and Privacy Concerns of Biometric Verification

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Just a couple of decades ago, the concept of verifying a person’s identity instantly through a simple face or fingerprint scan was nothing short of science fiction. Fast forward to the 21st century and this concept would eventually come to be known as biometric verification. Today, it is a widely used means of identity verification for both civilian and governmental purposes. Its adoption is ubiquitous across all facets of life, including the face ID on your mobile phones.

Biometric verification is the process of using unique physical or behavioral characteristics to confirm an individual’s identity, which has gained immense popularity in recent years. From fingerprint recognition on smartphones to facial recognition at airport security, biometrics have transformed the way we authenticate ourselves.

What Is Biometric Verification?

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Biometric verification is a method of confirming an individual’s identity based on their unique physiological or behavioural characteristics. These ‘characteristics’ are often referred to as biometrics and can include features such as fingerprints, facial landmarks, iris, voice patterns, palm prints, and more. Biometric verification systems capture and store these biometric data points which will then be compared to the biometric data of the person trying to access a system, device, or facility.

Biometric verification is used in various applications such as the more common use of unlocking smartphones, accessing secure buildings, authenticating users for online services, and more. Biometric verification is considered highly reliable and secure, as no two people have the same unique physical characteristics. It relies on unique, difficult-to-forge characteristics of an individual. This reduces the risk of unauthorised access compared to traditional methods like passwords or PINs.

What Are The Ethical & Privacy Concerns of Biometric Verification?

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While biometric technology offers unparalleled convenience and security, it also raises certain ethical and privacy concerns that warrant serious consideration.

  1. Consent and Data Ownership: One of the primary ethical concerns is the issue of consent. Users may not always be fully aware of how their biometric data is collected, stored, and shared. Establishing clear consent mechanisms and ensuring individuals have control over their biometric data is crucial.
  2. Discrimination and Bias: Biometric systems can exhibit bias, leading to disparate treatment among individuals. This bias can be rooted in the data used for training these systems, which may not accurately represent diverse demographics. Facial recognition systems tend to misidentify African faces at a higher rate, with one study showing that African American and Asian faces were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white faces
  3. Security and Vulnerabilities: Biometric data cannot be changed in the event that it is compromised. Ethical considerations arise when there are vulnerabilities in biometric systems, potentially leading to identity theft or misuse of personal information.
  4. Data Protection: The storage and handling of biometric data pose significant privacy challenges. Ensuring the security of databases that house sensitive biometric information is vital to protect individuals from data breaches.
  5. Profiling and Surveillance: The increasing use of facial recognition for surveillance and profiling has sparked debates on privacy invasion. It’s crucial to strike a balance between security and protecting individual rights.
  6. Third-Party Sharing: Many biometric verification services are provided by third-party companies. Sharing biometric data with these entities raises concerns about how the data is used and whether it’s shared with other parties.

What Regulations And Safeguards Must Be Put In Place To Address This Problem?

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To address these ethical and privacy concerns, governments and organisations must implement several regulations and safeguards:

  1. Transparency: Organisations are obligated to be transparent about how their users’ biometric data is being collected, used, and shared. Users deserve the right to have access to this information.
  2. Data Minimisation: It is important for organisations to only collect the necessary data and limit the scope of its use to reduce potential risks.
  3. Consent From Users: Before proceeding with the biometric verification process, organisations must first ensure informed and explicit consent from users before collecting their biometric data.
  4. Security Measures: Stringent security measures are advised to be implemented to protect biometric databases from breaches.
  5. Bias Mitigation: It is the duty of the relevant parties to regularly audit and test biometric systems for bias and proceed to rectify any discrepancies within the system.
  6. Accountability: Organisations should be held accountable for any breaches or misuse of biometric data.

Bottom Line

Biometric verification is a powerful new technology for enhancing security and convenience — but as with any innovation, it also comes with significant ethical and privacy concerns.

To ensure a responsible and secure implementation of biometrics, it’s important for organisations, governments, and individuals to cooperate in striking the right balance between the benefits of this technology and the protection of individual rights and privacy. Ethical considerations and robust regulations are key to addressing these concerns and fostering trust in biometric verification systems.

Innov8tif incorporates biometric verification technology within our eKYC solutions. However, we take extra steps to ensure that our users’ data is collected in an ethical manner as the comfort and privacy of our customers are our utmost priority.

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