Biometric data includes any measurable attribute that can uniquely identify a specific person.
Fingerprints are a classic example. All people have them, we can clearly measure their patterns, and those patterns differ so strongly between individuals that we accept those differences as a way to distinguish a singular identity from any other.
Types of biometric data
There are many types of biometric data currently in use, and research continues to identify new traits that can be analyzed for uniqueness. The types of data evaluated fall into a few different categories, based on what they evaluate:
These traits can be appreciated visually or spatially, and their shapes, sizes, and positions physically measured or mapped.
- Fingerprint analysis
- Facial recognition
- Iris/retinal scanning
- Vascular mapping
These chemical signatures are specific to an individual’s biology. Assessing them generally requires laboratory testing to isolate unique markers.
- DNA matching
- Odor analysis
- Blood typing
- Salivary profiles
Newer technologies evaluate the patterns or mannerisms. Speed and intensity, inflection, and tonality can authenticate identity when employing automated tasks.
- Signature recognition
- Voice printing
- Gait recognition
- Keystroke dynamics
How is biometric data used?
The nature of biometric data makes it more secure than other forms of identification and authentication. It’s very challenging, and often impossible, to gain control of or falsify someone else’s biometric signatures. There are two general ways this data is usually used.
Biometric analysis can consistently prove identity. Passwords or keys can be shared and documentation can be forged, but biometric data is fixed and remains tied to the same person over time.
Requiring an individual to present biometric data offers a secure option to limit or grant access in both digital and physical spaces. It can similarly bar or allow physical entry into facilities, or prevent unauthorized operation of equipment like firearms.
Common Applications for Biometrics
- Computer systems and other electronic devices scan fingerprints to allow access.
- Smartphones use facial recognition to allow use of the device or replace password entry for apps.
- Digital payment systems authenticate identity through facial recognition or fingerprint to allow secure cash-free transactions.
- Facility, workplace, or residential access can be restricted by iris/retinal scans or fingerprint scans.
- Law enforcement identifies individuals, conducts surveillance, and provides legal evidence via a wide variety of physical, biological, and behavioral data.
- Healthcare providers use fingerprint scanning and behavior analysis to allow appropriate levels of access to protected information, and use fingerprints, DNA, and other data to accurately identify patients.
How can biometrics help my business?
Biometric data offers significant advantages over conventional security measures.
A password or code can be written down, captured through malware, or hacked. Physical items like a key or a chip card can be stolen or duplicated. Documentation and photos can be forged or copied.
Since biometric data is permanently aligned to a single individual, it can be used to identify that person regardless of circumstance and with almost certain confidence.
Traditional safeguards require remembering complex or changing passwords, or carrying an item like ID or a keycard. Mistakes or loss can result in frustrating reset or replacement procedures.
What are the challenges of biometric data?
Collection and storage of this sensitive information comes with several considerable drawbacks which can lead to costly legal issues.
Routine uses often requires cooperation from those being identified, but facial and behavioral data can easily be collected and used without consent or knowledge for purposes of surveillance.
Biometric data collected for one purpose is at risk to be used for another, and when used in conjunction with other information about an individual, can result in a significant loss of privacy.
Without secure storage, data could be captured and used for subsequent fraudulent authentications or other malicious aims.
What are the legal issues relating to biometric data?
There are considerable privacy and security issues relating to collecting and sharing biometric data without explicit consent.
We regularly encounter stories about hefty legal fines, data breaches, and other issues related to biometric data in our privacy news roundup blog articles.
Companies must be aware of the evolving regulations surrounding this type of data collection as it becomes more prevalent. A legal privacy audit is recommended to adequately plan to meet legal standards and remain in compliance.