When you hear the word ‘biometrics’, it might conjure up an image of Hollywood’s not particularly accurate depiction of flashy security, laser retina scans, and cunning spies faking biometric data.
In reality, biometrics – fingerprint, iris or even facial recognition – is much safer than its Hollywood portrayal, and has become a method of security which we’ve grown to use throughout our everyday lives – whether we realise it or not. It’s a technology which has shown no sign in slowing down over the last twenty years, with new applications and advancements being regularly announced – although many go unnoticed by the general public.
In this article, we’ll be exploring some of the real-world applications of biometric technology, including the most recent announcement, as well as highlighting the perceived benefits and limitations of such technology.
Earlier this week, a new use of biometric technology hit the headlines, sparking some surprise from regular commuters and the public at large. Following the publication of the Capability Delivery Plan, rail firms have begun discussions around introducing biometric technology as a means for customers to pay for their rail journey.
Aside from providing an additional, automatic payment method for travellers, the technology has been touted as being able to help ease congestion and customer flow by saving time at machines. At the moment, this is only one such proposal for railways, but it would certainly be interesting to see technology grow in line with ever-increasing passenger numbers.
For students studying in the UK from overseas or long-term visitors, biometrics are already a part of their lives. Biometric Residence Permits were introduced by the government in January 2015, in compliance with European Commission regulations. The permits, or BRPs, carry the biometric information of anyone staying in the UK for longer than six months, and are an effective way of tracking visitors. Similarly, UK ePassports have been introduced steadily over the last decade, increasing security between borders by using the carrier’s stored biometric data to verify their identity.
Over the last twenty years, banking has become more efficient than ever, facing the challenges of a smaller, busier world. As well as the introduction of contactless payments, we’ve seen a boom in mobile banking apps. The concern with these apps however, is how to ensure that customers have peace of mind when it comes to keeping their information secure on a mobile device which can be easily stolen or lost. The answer – as already adopted by the likes of RBS and NatWest – is to make use of fingerprint reading technology available on iPhones to provide unique security credentials for accessing their apps. Last year, Barclays and HSBC went one further by introducing not only fingerprint scanning, but voice recognition to ensure their customers could safely access their banking at any time.
Are Biometrics Safe?
One of the benefits of biometric technology is the unique nature of each biometric asset. Technology has been built that can identify people by their voice, ears, eyes, face, fingerprints, gait and even heartbeat. Because all of this information is unique, unlike a password, it can’t be replicated or guessed.
The downside to this, of course, is that biometric assets can be affected by injury, damage or total loss, which can impede the security process and – depending on how reliant we become – lock people out of their own data forever. The solution to this would be to keep a secondary method of entry in place to allow entry if biometric assets are damaged or lost.
There are arguments against biometric data based around data ownership and biometric monitoring – such as was announced by Google last year under the codename Project Abacus. Unfortunately, we live in a world where hacking and cybercrime can already evade our security measures, so the question comes down to whether to trade freedom for security.
On the whole, biometric technology already has a place in our lives – from unlocking our iPhones to helping us manage our money on the go – and in the absence of any other exciting security innovations, it’s likely that the focus will remain on biometrics for the foreseeable future.
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