After the “9-11” attacks on America by terrorists, widespread adjustments and reforms were called for so as to improve national security. The security concerns despite being fueled by the terrorism threat were not limited to national security; the concerns also addressed security against personal identity theft, corporate security and social security. Since then, security has constantly been beefed up so as to effectively combat crime.
Among the methods used to facilitate this is the scientific security system known as biometrics. Lyon (2008) defines biometrics as a branch of biological science which measures and analyzes individual features such as facial traits, DNA, retina and voice to use them in verification processes. Biometric technologies are therefore the tools that are used to facilitate the verification. They include but are not limited to; retinal, hand and finger print scanners, voice recognition software and DNA-enabled swap cards.
The use of biometric technology has proven to be more effective and efficient than most of its alternatives. Conversely as is with everything else, there is a down side to its use in the political, social and economic realms. Sonkamble & Thool (2010) confirm that the major motivation towards the development and advancement of biometric technologies was to find foolproof means to secure data against thieves.
The use of biometrics has continued to cover a wide range of application areas. With this spread in use of biometric technologies such as retinal, DNA and fingerprint scanners, various concerns regarding biometrics have been raised. The concerns emanate from different perceptions held by people in relation to invasion of privacy, applicability and health implications that may arise from the use of biometrics. As such, there is a dire need to address these issues.
Security has always been one of the primary concerns of humans, from the Stone Age era to modern day civilization. Over the years, people all over the globe have raised concerns pertaining to the security situation surrounding them in their day to day activities. This century has witnessed an escalation in violence and crime at an unprecedented level.
This bleak characteristic has marked nearly all the countries in the world regardless of their economic status. High levels of insecurity attributed to poverty and political instability in developing countries has been documented; while, in developed countries, there has been an increase in terrorist activities, identity theft, fraud, burglaries and other forms of robberies.
Due to this state of affairs, governments are always looking for ways and means to tighten security, so as to provide safe havens for their citizens. Biometrics provides an avenue through which security can be guaranteed. To achieve this, the assumptions that biometrics facilitate the invasion of privacy, may have dangerous health effects on the users, are discriminatory and are unnecessary expenses need to be laid to rest if the full benefits of biometrics are to be realized.
Biometric Issues and concerns
There exists a myriad of concerns with regard to biometric technology. While some of the concerns sprout from fear and ignorance, a significant proportion is actually based on true facts. For example, the alleged universality of biometric technologies has been disputed by some who claim that biometric applications marginalize some people.
A specific complaint is that equal rights of access are denied to the disabled person due to lack of specific biometric traits such as usable eyes, fingerprints, DNA among others (Langenderfer & Linnhoff, 2005). In addition, concerns about actual harm resulting from biometric technology have also been raised in the recent past.
Biometric applications such as the retinal scans are suspected of being hazardous to the eyes of the person on whom the scan is being run. This has led to fear that the system may cause one to be blind. Despite these fears being unfounded and stemming primarily from ignorance, they continue to be rampant in the society (Langenderfer & Linnhoff, 2005)
These allegations (fears that biometrics are harmful to your health, invasion of privacy through biometric applications and central databases of personal information) have not dampened the progress of the biometric technology advances since they affect a relatively small part of the population. Considering the fact that biometric technologies are still in their developing stages, more time should be awarded to the people dedicated to such projects with the hope that all aspects will eventually be covered.
Research is being undertaken to ensure that more people can access the technology, despite their disabilities, thereby refuting the claims of discrimination. On the same note, research has shown that biometric systems are deemed safe and cannot cause any physical harm to the user (Bordini & Massari, 2008). The public needs to be educated on these findings so as to dismiss fears of the effects of the systems.
Lyon (2008) insists that the use of biometric technologies plays a vital role in ensuring harmonious coexistence among people. He further supports the fact that there has been no documented casualty or accident associated with biometric systems. As such, the author proposes that more investments should be made in educating the masses on the benefits that they can accrue from using these systems.
Liberatore (2007) further supports the inception of biometric systems in all sectors of the economy. He attributes his argument to the fact that human beings are often reluctant to change. The author recommends that measures should be put in place regarding the promotion of biometric technologies.
He reiterates that, as the population across the globe increases, the more difficult it becomes for the governments to offer adequate security to their citizenry. Nevertheless, biometric technologies present an avenue through which the citizens can participate in their safety, all the while helping government authorities in the fight against crime. The author finally declares that the benefits of these systems far outweigh the risks and dangers and it would therefore be a worthwhile endeavor to invest in our security.
Overview of biometrics
Biometrics traces its birth to the Chinese merchants who allegedly used foot prints to identify their children. From this humble beginning, biometric technology has advanced to be one of the most secure forms of security implementation in the world. Biometrics can be described as a standard of measurement for life as it uses physical characteristics that are unique to the individual (Lyon, 2008).
Currently the term “biometrics” refers to the automated identification of a person using their physiological or behavioral traits. For a trait to be utilized for biometrics, it has to be unique to an individual. It is for this reason that obvious physical traits like height, weight and color have not been utilized in the technology.
There are several types of biometric technology currently in use or under research. Biological features used in these systems include but are not limited to; DNA, ear, face, fingerprint, hand geometry, eye, signature, veins, and voice recognition among others. All of the traits proposed for biometric technology implementations meet some certain preconditions.
They should be universal (everyone must have them), distinctive (not similar to another person’s), permanent (remains the same with no abrupt changes) and collectable (can be measured quantitatively). It is for this reason that indistinctive features such as weight and color have not been exploited. Some of the commonly used types include signature, facial recognition, fingerprint scanning and optical recognition.
Arguably the most common form of traditional biometric technology implementation was the human signature. The rationale behind using this trait is that everybody has a unique way of jotting down their signatures.
At the onset, people relied on their observational skills to spot fraudulence but through practice people have been able to study and eventually forge these signatures. As a result a computerized program was developed to help validate controversial signatures. This program checked the pressure of the pen, the speed and rhythm of the person and many other minute attributes to recognize fraudulence.
In the past decade, advancements in Biometric technologies have been of a significant nature. Liu (2008) Articulates that while widespread use of biometrics as a security solution was debatable in the past decade, the technology has experienced worldwide acceptance and is now being adopted in all spheres of life.
Most of these advances are largely due to the huge investments made by governments to fund research projects related to feasible biometric technologies. This combined with the existing demand for security projects has led to scientists working even more diligently towards the achievement of security solutions that are both effective and marketable.
One of the novel advancement in biometric technology has been the Iris recognition system. This technology was necessitated by the time constraints with which traditional methods like finger scans were associated with. There arose a need to come up with a system that would be as efficient as the finger scanner and require even less time to identify a person.
This system was first introduced on a commercial platform in the UK to aid in the immigration control at border points (Bhatnagar & Patney, 2010)). The outcomes of this technology were outstanding in that they enabled people to be identified while in motion! This is a significant point considering the amount of congestion that occurs in immigration centers due to the huge number of people waiting to be served.
Facial recognition has been another area in which biometric technology has made significant leaps. Bhatnagar & Patney (2010) attribute the significant attention which has been given to facial recognition has received to the non-invasive nature of the technology. Facial recognition is seen as user-friendly since it does not involve any active user input and is non-disruptive in nature. Sadly, as of 2006, the maturity level of this technology was still not far progressed and more research was needed to fine-tune the technology.
With the increase in the success of projects such as the IRIS project in the United Kingdom and the widespread use of finger scans, many governments have been willing to invest heavily in the biometric research and implementations in their respective countries.
This has meant that the technology is no longer in the back seat of security measures only accessible to an elite few but instead, the technology is being used on a wider scale. The technology is also being constantly updated to make it more efficient and remove any flaws that may in the past have decreased its effectiveness and efficiency.
Another major issue raised is about the hygiene of these systems. In light of the resent outbreaks of communicable diseases such as swine flu, this seems to be a valid concern. The biometric systems are almost always created to be utilized by a large number of people meaning that they are exposed to people with differing levels of hygiene standards.
It is for this reason among others that systems such as facial recognition and iris scans are more popular since they do not raise these concerns. Nevertheless, Langenderfer & Linnhoffn (2005), state that no system has yet been rejected due to hygienic reasons.
Various social conditions have necessitated the need for development of biometric measures to control cases of crime. One of the key issues that biometric technologies purport to solve is that of fraud especially where government funds are involved.
Sonkamble et al (2010) recorded that over $40 Billion was being lost in the welfare system by people who had registered multiple times for welfare or taken false identities. By use of a finger scan, the finger print of an individual could be verified hence enabling the authorities to wade off fraudulent people.
There has been prevalence in crime levels in all countries. In developed countries, identity theft is on an increase with dire repercussions for the person to whom this crime is perpetrated against. Social Security Numbers, credit card information and other personal information is stolen and used to either commit fraud or theft.
Biometrics technology has a high potential of ending identity theft (Mordini & Massari, 2008). Use of biometrics to curb identity theft has been made possible especially due to technological advancement since biometric identifiers are much harder to steal leave alone counterfeit. This makes these systems important in the fight against crime.
In recent times rigging during elections have been a commonplace in many countries. This has resulted in the election of dictatorial leaders or the breaking out of civil wars due to rigged results especially in the developing countries. As such, systems have to be put in place to ensure that the process is indeed free and fair.
Biometrics offers such an alternative if implemented because issues such as errors in counting ballots or scenarios where people vote more than once can easily be detected (Liberatore, 2007). The Indian government is on the forefront of developing such a system which will without doubt be widely embraced by governments all over the world.
The automobile industry has also embraced the use of biometrics. Finger scans have been seen to be a more effective than conventional security systems such as keys. It is projected that once this technological implementation in vehicles is fine-tuned, all modern vehicles shall boast of a biometric security system (Sonkamble et al, 2010). Airports and immigration centers have utilized biometric technologies to enhance their security. Iris scans have been used to verify passengers and grant staff access to restricted areas (Kingsbury, 2003).
Biometrics and Privacy
With the increase in the application of biometric technology for security solutions, there has been an outburst of concerns over the privacy implications that this technology presents to the common man. Biometric systems almost always involve the use of databases that contain thousands or even millions of records on people (Argyropoulos et al, 2010).
There is concern as to the information falling into the wrong hands or being used for other purposes other than that it was intended to by the holders of the information. Dixon (2008) asserts that these concerns have led to the birth of groups such as BioPrivacy which champion the rights of individuals to privacy and give suggestions as to the best ways in which to deploy biometric technology so that it does not infringe on the privacy of people. Many Americans also fear the centralization of crucial information about them.
They acclaim that it is bound to being misused. In many occasions data has been collected for particular reasons but later used for different purposed other than the intended ones. This has made many refrain from offering personal information claiming that it may lead to intrusion of their privacy.
Ultimately, one must consider the immerse gains that can come about as a result of centralized databases of information. With a centralized DNA database, the process of tracing one’s parents which up to this point has been well-nigh impossible can become a possibility. Social security services can also utilize this means to trace parents who misuse child support payments.
To dispel the fears that exist concerning the security of the information in the databases, most governments make sure that such databases are housed in premises with high-class security features. In addition to this, the information can only be used with the explicit permission of the person concerned of by a court order thus further protecting the rights of the individual.
While there is wide spread fears as to the security of information which is stored in databases Liu (2008) point out that not all biometric systems require the use of central databases and thereby storage of personalized information in the database.
Instead, many authentification technologies employ a system whereby biometric information presented by a person is matched with a sample stored on a device (e.g. an access card) that is held by the person. As such, the person is in charge of the information and therefore needs not worry about his/her privacy being invaded.
While most people are concerned about their privacy, there exist privacy acts that ensure that the government respects the privacy of individuals. The government is restricted from taking information without the individual’s consent unless there is justifiable cause for which a warrant granted by a judge has to be issued (Liu, 2008). Information which is obtained without the individual’s consent is not admissible in a court of law and therefore one need not worry of being incriminated.
Human beings often view change from different perspectives and as such some are for, while others strongly oppose the development and use of biometrics as a means of identification and security. Due to lack of adequate information about them by the public, many people do not see the relevance of biometrics as compared to the traditional means of identification. As such, people have reservations on the long term impacts that biometrics may have on their rights and lives.
From this discussion, issues surrounding biometric technologies have been explore. The intrusion of personal privacy has been viewed as the main concern regarding to the use of these systems. Consequently, a detailed analysis of this issue has been presented and viable insight has been offered proving that biometric systems do not have any imminent threat to this issue.
The health and discrimination issues associated with these technologies have eloquently been dismissed through the use of relevant literature. As a human race, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that we are safe at all times. Adoption of Biometric technologies is one way through which this can be achieved.
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