Biometric Data Collection Today: Where We Are, and Where We’re Going

By Cate Orlina at SafetyCulture

Biometric data collection is collecting fingerprints, palm prints, iris scans, and facial recognition to verify a person’s identity. Digital biometric data has been around since the early 1990s and can be applied to almost any aspect of daily life. Biometric technology has grown exponentially in recent years due to the increasingly digitized world in which we live. Biometrics referred to as “measurable identifiers,” include fingerprint/finger vein impression, palm prints, facial geometry, voice signal analysis, and physiological signals for body temperature and heart rate variations.

Biometrics is Everywhere

Demand for security and convenience has driven the evolution of biometrics. For example, adopters of smartphones have been using fingerprints to unlock their devices since 2007, and facial recognition software has been used in many applications since 2000 (including Apple Pay).

In addition to enhancing convenience and improving security, biometrics can also be used for other purposes such as verification or identification. More than 80% of people expect biometrics to be part of future payment methods (nearly double from last year).

Privacy Scares

While biometrics is used in many ways today, from security systems at airports to tracking criminals’ movements on social media sites, they pose significant privacy risks. But as we all know, privacy is an issue when using biometric data. Since its inception, biometric data collection has been fraught with privacy and security issues.

People are concerned about collecting, managing, and using their biometric data. They don’t want to be tracked or profiled, and they don’t like the idea that their data is stored in a database. Moreover, they don’t believe in them using their data for anything good; after all, it’s just bits and bytes on a hard drive somewhere. They worry that it might be hacked or stolen.

Events in recent years have illustrated the privacy risks posed by biometric data collection. We are all aware of the dangers of facial recognition technology on our way of life and personal freedom, but it is essential to remember that biometric data collection is not limited to facial recognition. There are other ways that biometric data is being collected and several ways this can negatively impact your personal life and the world around you.

Different Approaches to Biometric Data Collection 

High-level encryption of biometric data can help to mitigate these risks. For example, one approach is to use existing encryption technology such as the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). This block cipher algorithm has been used in many systems, including military and commercial applications. NIST standardized the AES algorithm as FIPS 197 in 2001.

Another approach is using a separate system to encrypt the data and then use it within the biometric measurement system. We can achieve this through public-key encryption techniques, which are widely available and well documented.

Biometric Data Collection Risks and How to Mitigate Them

One of the most significant risks associated with biometric data collection is that hackers and malicious actors can easily access it. A high-level encryption method will help to mitigate these risks, however, by making it so that only authorized parties can access a user’s data.

The risk of data breaches is increasing every day as more and more people are using biometric technology to access their accounts and devices. Despite this, many people are still unaware of the risks associated with this type of data collection.

The main risks of biometric data collection include:

1. The loss or theft of biometric data from a device, which hackers can use to gain access to the device and its contents.

2. Sensitive information about you being stored somewhere other than on your device, such as in storage systems in other countries or even on computers owned by third parties.

3. Your biometric data is being used by someone else without your permission, for example, when an employee is forced to turn over their fingerprints to pay at work adequately.

The privacy risks posed by biometric data collection are real, but there are proven ways to mitigate them.  Choose to use biometric authentication systems such as retina scanners or facial recognition software on your devices.

Data Protection Regulations to Address Privacy Concerns

Data protection regulation at the state level and in Europe will significantly impact how organizations collect and use biometric data. A major overhaul of data protection regulations due to take effect across Europe in 2020 will significantly increase the amount of data required for biometric authentication. Organizations may require explicit consent from users before collecting their biometrics. Organizations that do not comply with these new rules risk penalties from national data protection authorities, including fines or even imprisonment.

In addition, many EU laws already regulate how you can use biometric data, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and eIDAS (European Electronic Identification and Authentication System)—passed these laws to protect personal information. Still, they also prevent companies from using biometric data for purposes other than those permitted under European law (for example, using facial recognition software to identify people in photos automatically). This means you’ll be careful about what kind of information you collect—and why you collect it—if you want to continue using biometric technology without violating European law.

Taking Action on Biometric Data Collection Issues

People normally worry that companies who track them online will misuse their personal information and then sell that information to advertisers. But let’s look from a different perspective: as consumers, we want to feel safe while using our devices because we’re worried about being hacked or having our accounts compromised. If a company can’t guarantee this safety or security for us, what good is it?

So what can companies do? They can give people control over how their biometric data is collected and provide clear explanations of what happens to the information once it leaves their hands.

Moving the World Forward with Biometric Data Collection

Biometric data collection, while advantageous and well-intentioned in certain circumstances, poses a genuine concern to our privacy. The future of biometric data is undoubtedly bright, but like many new technologies, it must be handled with care. We hope this article has given you insight into the problems associated with biometric data collection and offered some suggestions on mitigating those risks.

Cate Orlina is part of the marketing and content team behind the global tech startup SafetyCulture, A business-to-business software as a service company, offering the mobile-first solution, iAuditor. With 3+ years of experience in Off-page and on-page SEO. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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