Understanding the benefits and risks of biometric data

Every time you unlock your phone screen with facial recognition, log in to your bank account with your fingerprint or ask Siri for directions to the closest sushi restaurant, you are using biometrics

In order to comprehend how significant biometrics are in our increasingly technologically advanced world, we must first understand how they work.

In a nutshell, biometrics are biological measurements  of a person’s physical characteristics which are used to verify their identity. These can include physiological traits, such as eyes and fingerprints, or even behavioural characteristics, such as the unique way a person solves a Sudoku puzzle. This is covered in depth in ExpressVPN’s summary on biometric data.

How are biometrics used?

The truth is, in this day and age, they are being used constantly. Every time you unlock your phone screen with facial recognition, log in to your bank account with your fingerprint, or ask Siri for directions to the closest sushi restaurant - you are using biometrics.

In addition to an individual’s use of biometrics, they are used all over the world for a myriad of reasons. For instance, CCTV surveillance is used to analyse a person’s movements or location, fingerprints and DNA can be used by the police to identify a suspect, while retinal scans are used to identify whether or not a person needs glasses. 

Biometrics used locally

The Maltese government is contemplating how their Safe City surveillance programme would be implemented. The project was first introduced by former prime minister Joseph Muscat as a facial recognition system, which was to be applied in crime-hit areas such as Marsa and Paceville.

The form of surveillance technology and biometrics would utilise artificial intelligence-controlled technology to monitor activity and identify people through the use of algorithms that match their faces with established databases. Safe City would be rolled out and developed by the Maltese government, in cooperation with the Chinese tech giant, Huawei.

The controversy

As one may imagine, many issues have been highlighted in response to collecting people’s biometric data, with the debate primarily revolving around the issue of personal privacy versus security. 

Many feel they have a right to enjoy their freedom of going wherever they like without being tracked or having their whereabouts on record. In this case, there is also the risk of data being leaked or accessed by parties who should not be privy to such information.

Others, who  favour surveillance and security, countered by stating that no law-abiding person should feel threatened if they respect the law. To the contrary, people would have more peace of mind as they would be protected from the lawless. Regardless of which side a person tends to lean towards, the power of persuasion may be lost, since the majority of people relinquished their right to privacy a long time ago - just by opening up a social media account, using the Internet or accepting surveillance legislation as a means of a protection from crimes.

Apart from protecting one’s privacy, questions such as who will be storing and monitoring the data have also been brought up.

How can you protect your biometric data?

While most of the responsibility to protect your biometric data falls on the organisations collecting it, there are a few ways in which the individual can protect it, too.

  • Understand the importance of your biometric data and only share it with highly-trusted organisations and companies
  • With any organisation you’re sharing your data with, check if all the necessary cybersecurity controls are in place
  • Only share your biometric data when absolutely necessary. For example, when a social media platform asks for facial recognition, think about whether it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Choose and create strong passwords to block easy routes for hackers to steal your data
  • Use a trusted cybersecurity software to keep your digital life as secure as possible.

While biometric security technology is a relatively young software, it’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. We can almost guarantee that in the near future, we will see better implementations with more speed, reliability, convenience and hopefully, safety. Remaining abreast of the new technology and software being released and taking mindful steps along the way will ensure that you, as an individual, and as a society can benefit from the improvements and ultimately be prepared for any risks.