Facial features and eyes are scanned at a biometric kiosk in San Diego, California. Biometrics are also used by customs agents in Canada.

Facial features and eyes are scanned at a biometric kiosk in San Diego, California. Biometrics are also used by customs agents in Canada.
Photo Credit: Denis Poroy/AP Photo

Biometric identification ‘creepy,’ warns report

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The use of the human body to identify people is becoming increasingly common raising concerns about privacy, identity theft, and misuse of personal information. Police have used fingerprints to for years, but new technology is permitting the use of eye scans, voice, ear shapes, and even body odour or gait.

Technology allows people to be ‘tracked without our knowledge’

“These biometrics can be measured from a distance,” says Prof. Tom Keenan, author of Techno Creep and a research fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “There are things even like the way we walk. And there’s been research that shows that it’s pretty unique. So, even without our knowledge, we might be tracked by a company or by a government and that’s a little bit creepy.”

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After hack attacks, biometrics cannot be changed

Biometrics are totally personal and, unlike passwords, they cannot be changed. “If we’re starting to secure things with biometric data, there’s no way to change your fingerprints. There’s no way to change your DNA. So it becomes a very difficult situation if that’s stolen,” he says.

In his book Techno Creep, Prof. Tom Keenan details many ways technology allows the wide circulation of personal information.
In his book Techno Creep, Prof. Tom Keenan details many ways technology allows the wide circulation of personal information.

Ability to share people’s personal information

Business can use information as they already do when culling it from social media or our internet searches. Keenan gives some examples: stores could conceivably take DNA samples from keypads, analyse them, and on your next visit, tell you that you have a genetic predisposition to some disease and try to sell you a product that could help.

Or if your fitness app is hooked up to your computer, information could conceivably be relayed that your heart rate goes up when you see a certain product online. An algorithm could be devised to raise the price of that product because you have demonstrated a keen interest in it, he suggests.

Airlines already share data

Data is already collected and shared by airlines in Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Britain, even if you are only flying within your own country. Keenan asks that, in the future, if one orders a low-sodium meal, could that information be relayed to an insurance company which might assume there is a higher health risk and then deny the person life insurance. Or, if you order a halal or kosher meal, that would reveal religious affiliation which could conceivably be shared.
Biometrics already used

Biometric authentication is already used at border crossings, and by at least one Canadian bank. It will soon come to smartphones and other electronic devices. It may become difficult to turn down, as incentives are offered, such as faster service. But Keenan warns that if you get something, you give up something. He says, society needs to consider biometrics and come up with guidelines to limit the vast potential for misuse.

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Categories: Internet, Science and Technology, Society
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