The Legal Aspect of Biometric Systems

The Legal Status of Using Biometric Data

Biometric SystemsIn recent years, the use of biometric data – templates and images – has been the subject of discussion by scores of legal professionals and laypeople. According to the European Union directive, ‘raw’ forms of biometric data are considered personal data. Personal data includes any unique information that is attributed to an identifiable person with an ID number, economic, mental, physiological or social identity, etcetera. All forms of raw data are covered by the Data Protection Directive. Privacy concerns, safety regulations and the type of data that is collected and stored are all considered within legal decisions about using biometric data.

There has been much discussion about biometric data being deemed sensitive and personal. According to the Data Protection Directive (Article 8), the processing of data that reveals personal characteristics such as philosophical beliefs, ethnicity, race or religion should ideally require the consent of the data subjects in question. As far as privacy concerns go, the measures required for obtaining biometric data are often regarded as disproportionate to the tasks it is needed for. It is important to narrow the focus of biometric technology, with oversight as to what data will be stored and how it will be stored. Other questions include who will have access to the biometric data, and how it will be controlled. In practical terms, biometric technologies can be used for national security improvement and so forth.

Biometric Technology and the Privacy of Health Data

The details contained in biometric data include information used for identification and information not used for identification. The former type of data includes Randotypic, Genotypic, and Behavioral details. Information that is not used to identify an individual may include data about an acute disease. Generally speaking, biometric information does not disclose health information. As it stands, the current biometric technology does not allow for disclosure of health data, and the technological jump required for biometric systems to reveal health and disease information is a big one.

The Sensitivity of Biometric Data

A survey conducted in 2006 revealed that 63% of respondents in the United Kingdom considered biometric data to be sensitive data. The perception of its sensitivity varies according to category, with contact details, biometric and genetic data regarded as highly sensitive by over 33% of those polled. A full 20% of respondents perceive data about political ideology, religious affiliation, ethnicity and race as extremely sensitive. There is also a question as to the anonymity that is possible with biometric data. While it is difficult to completely anonymize data, this can be done when biometric data is stored offline for verification purposes.
As long as there are no clear-cut and rigorously proven answers about what biometric technology is capable, this is one debate that looks set to continue.

The Nuts and Bolts of Fingerprint Biometric Systems

Fingerprint to prevent identity theft - NikuvBiometric systems are highly advanced automated methods of instantly identifying people, based on behavioral or physiological features. Chief among these is fingerprinting. The simplest definition of a fingerprint is an impression left by the friction ridges of a person’s finger. This is entirely unique to every single person – no two sets of fingerprints in the world are identical, and they do not change – even with age. Identical twins have distinct fingerprints too. In that sense, fingerprints are the preferred method of identifying people with biometric systems, and are commonly used in forensic science at crime scenes. But they are also a useful means of identifying people for ID documents, drivers’ licenses and passports. And now biometrics fingerprinting is widely used in the workplace and at home with PCs, smartphones, external hard drives, safes, etc.

How Are Fingerprints Captured?

In the traditional sense, police and government agencies capture fingerprints by using ink. The imprint created by the friction ridges transfers the fingerprint to paper. These friction ridges are the elevated parts of the epidermis on fingers. In most cases, only the pads of the last joints (tips) of fingers and thumbs are taken. However, it is increasingly common for entire hand prints to be collected nowadays. Digital recording of friction ridges is being adopted throughout the world. There are several ways that fingerprints are collected including: latent prints, patent prints, plastic prints, exemplar prints and electronic prints.

Biometric Fingerprint Scanning

The reason why biometric fingerprint technology is now widely adopted by government, police and the private sector is the accuracy, reliability, and real-time updating/processing capabilities of this method. Fingerprint scanners generate images of a person’s fingers and then determine whether these images match others in the database. A select number of unique features are targeted and these are then saved as mathematical representations or secure biometric keys. It should be pointed out biometric scanners do not save images of fingerprints; they save algorithmic binary code. Fingerprint authentication is used for several purposes including identifying who you are, what security clearance you have, and what information you are privy to.

Why is Biometric Scanning and Authentication so Popular?

In a world rife with identity fraud, one of the safest ways to authenticate a person’s identity is fingerprinting. It is near impossible to guess the correct algorithmic binary code of a person’s fingerprint. Access passes and security cards can be misplaced, but fingerprints are always on your person. And since passwords are easily lost or forgotten, fingerprints provide the ideal means of secure identification. Biometric fingerprinting provides for a high degree of accuracy in reporting, attendance, and identity. The immediacy, accuracy and security of reported information – vis-à-vis biometric fingerprint scanning – are the most convenient characteristics of this technology. The cost-effective element is another big advantage with biometrics systems. Since ID or access cards don’t need to be issued every time employees are added or removed, the savings are substantial. There is also less risk of fraud since the person is always physically present with biometrics, and theft of ID cards is rendered null and void when fingerprints are used.


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