Privacy and Other Concerns

Some people object to biometrics for cultural or religious reasons. Others imagine a world in which cameras identify and track them as they walk down the street, following their activities and buying patterns without their consent. They wonder whether companies will sell biometric data the way they sell e-mail addresses and phone numbers. People may also wonder whether a huge database will exist somewhere that contains vital information about everyone in the world, and whether that information would be safe there.

At this point, however, biometric systems don't have the capability to store and catalog information about everyone in the world. Most store a minimal amount of information about a relatively small number of users. They don't generally store a recording or real-life representation of a person's traits -- they convert the data into a code. Most systems also work in only in the one specific place where they're located, like an office building or hospital. The information in one system isn't necessarily compatible with others, although several organizations are trying to standardize biometric data.

In addition to the potential for invasions of privacy, critics raise several concerns about biometrics, such as:

  • Over reliance: The perception that biometric systems are foolproof might lead people to forget about daily, common-sense security practices and to protect the system's data.
  • Accessibility: Some systems can't be adapted for certain populations, like elderly people or people with disabilities.
  • Interoperability: In emergency situations, agencies using different systems may need to share data, and delays can result if the systems can't communicate with each other.

Follow the links on the next page for lots more information about biometrics.