Biometrics: Security Boon or Busting Privacy?
WASHINGTON -- Surreptitiously checking the public against a biometric database of criminals may have seemed Orwellian a while ago, but increased security concerns are prompting acceptance of such security systems, say analysts.
An October 2001 Harris poll found 86 percent of respondents favor using facial recognition technology to scan for terrorists, in the wake of the
But as facial recognition and fingerprinting become pervasive, moral and ethical issues need to be resolved, caution privacy advocates. Researchers, biometrics developers, and other interested parties tackled the topic in a forum at the CATO Institute here this week.
"The government is obliged to create a regulatory structure," to protect individual privacy and security, says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
For example, the popular bookstore Borders recently withdrew a plan to use cameras to scan for shoplifters after a public outcry about privacy.
"This system is cheaper and less intrusive than maintaining a large police presence," Zelazny says. "It is also neutral to race and color, as it is based on facial features recognized by the software."
But EPIC's Rotenberg contends facial recognition cannot be used as reliably as fingerprinting. "Maybe sometime in the future we could, but we don't know yet. So the benefits are being overstated," he says.
Public privacy is protected because captured images are not stored, Zelazny says. But Denning worries about the security of biometric prints of criminals in a database.
"Integrity of the biometric print is very important," she said. "What if someone hacked into the system and replaced Osama bin Laden's biometric prints?"
Rotenberg and others advocate regulatory procedure to "rationalize and scrutinize" the use of biometrics.
"There is no regulation to protect the right of privacy for the features one shows in public," says John Woodward, senior policy analyst at RAND, a policy research center. He said biometrics address basic societal and individual concerns. Biometrics could be used for security in homes and offices, at casinos, for investigations by the media, and to check access for people who work with children, he says.
Recognizing the threat biometrics pose to privacy, he adds, "I am in favor of regulating what goes into the database."
Biometrics is an emerging technology, and independent testing is required to test its efficacy, Woodward adds. The industry has asked for federal legislation governing the use of biometrics, Zelazny notes. She said various government agencies, including the National Security Agency, are evaluating the technology.