5
Dez
2004

Be wary of how they put the finger on us

We tend to think of biometrics as being a recent technological marvel - iris scanning, facial recognition, fingerprint access - as seen on movies such as Tom Cruise's Minority Report and now in real life. But biometric technologies are possibly the oldest method of establishing identity. Fingerprints were used in Babylon as seals on clay tablets recording business deals. But biometrics is undergoing rapid and far-reaching developments, with big potential implications for how personal information is handled. Biometric measurement of faces, voices, signatures, gait and shapes are all in use today. The capacity for use or abuse of this to generate a sense of fear, invasion or loss is obvious. Not long ago I attended the 26th International Conference on Privacy and Personal Data Protection in Poland, attended by nearly 1000 government and business representatives. Biometric identification was one of the key sessions. Privacy issues raised by the use of biometrics included: monitoring from afar through facial recognition technology; movement tracking by electronic means; loss of anonymity in public spaces with video surveillance; the use of DNA beyond the purpose for its original collection; and use by both the private and public sector, encouraged by decreasing technology costs. ID theft is reported to be increasing all over the world and articles lately suggest it is becoming increasingly targeted by organised crime. Biometric identification may help to protect us from that but, conversely, if those technologies can be perverted to the use of crime, the results would be frightening.

So where does privacy fit in all this? Privacy is, of course, ultimately about individuals. Individuals are the building blocks of society. Each of us needs freely to form, develop and maintain our identity and sense of self; we need a personal safety zone to provide that freedom.

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