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What are some concerns with using biometrics to register and track people, and how can countries address these concerns?

Discussion Leader: 
Posted Date: 03/14/2016

Several countries use advances in biometric technologies to register and track migrant populations, and the United Nations Refugee Agency acknowledges biometric identification is used at refugee camps. Utilizing biometric identification and registration can help organizations in efficiently distributing aid. 

U.S. Army Pfc. Mark Domingo, an infantryman attached to 2nd Platoon, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), takes an Afghan male's fingerprints in the village of Dande Fariqan, Nov. 5, 2012. The 2nd Platoon gathered biometric data on the residents in order to facilitate future investigations of insurgent activity. Photo Credit: U.S Army/Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake


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Once the biometric data is stored, it puts anyone whose data was collected at risk of theft. The theft of biometric becomes a larger threat once the stolen data is utilized to commit other crimes or bypass security measures. Collecting fingerprints and other data make forging biometric passports simpler. In addition, gummy fingerprints can be used in conjunction with matching passports to bypass transportation or immigration security. (Given the user is not discovered during spoofing attempt or the security personnel is not watchful)

Given enough time, nearly any system can be compromised or spoofed. For this reason, it is important to not put sole reliance on biometrics systems for any security measure. Instead, biometrics use should supplement other security systems as an added layer of protection.

Biometric verification is becoming more common as technology and safety measures improve. We can already unlock our phones with our fingerprints and access credit cards for payment on our phones with the same fingerprint verification technology. If biometric data is stored, there is always a risk for a security breach rendering the data vulnerable for exploitation. There has already been data stolen due to security breaches with databases like the OPM database. If we continue to collect biometric data, there is a chance that the biometric data can be open for exploitation.

Although biometric data are being more relied upon for verification and identification, these data should be one step in a multi-layered approach to security. In order to more aptly secure, verify and identify individuals, protocols that include biometric data analysis should be in place.Biometric data is not the pancea for safety, accuracy and/or security, but should be seen as avaluable tool in the process.