Biometric Techniques

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

We used to have a fear of our identity being stolen. However, today, we should be aware that even our personalities are being monitored and used in ways which we could not have imagined. Many of the benefits are transforming our daily lives, but alongside the good, there is also the malicious.

Technology is evolving at an ever increasing speed. This makes it hard for most of us to keep up, not only with the innovations and their applications but also with the potential implications to our existence. After all, it is only the benefits that are ever showcased on launch, never the potential negative impacts.

The clue is in the names of the new developments – “biometric techniques”. Biometrics are the DNA matching processes for the identification of an individual using the analysis of segments from DNA. These include processes such as Iris Recognition, Face Recognition, Finger Geometry Recognition, Hand Geometry Recognition, Typing Recognition and Voice – Speaker Identification. Biometric techniques include biometric identification, biometric categorisation, behavioural detection, emotion recognition and brain-computer-interfaces.

Biometric techniques use our biological materials, our DNA, something that is unique to us and thus we should have control over how and when it is used.

Biometric techniques use the specific technical processing of biometric data – that relating to physical, physiological or behavioural aspects of the human body – to authenticate, identify or categorise individuals. These developments in technology are able to distinguish between permanent or long-term characteristics, temporary or emotional and are even able to predict future behaviour to a high degree of accuracy.

Biometric technology is advancing so fast that specialised sensors can already capture many of our bio- signals – heart beats and brain waves. Brain-computing- interfaces (BCI) offer a new insight into our thinking as BCI can measure neuro activity and translate it into machine-readable data which can be used in multiple ways. Yes, it sounds like something from a science fiction film, but it is already here in our daily lives. Civil society organisations highlight their concerns regarding these intrusive technologies which not only detect thoughts but can also influence the operations of the human brain.

These applications are used in a range of sectors, including in healthcare, education, law enforcement, terrorism, border control and in fundamental and human rights abuses. The use of the technologies are in both the public and private sector and increasingly focus the development of multimodal biometrics – A combination of biometrics which provide greater accuracy and more flexibility than a single biometric. With enhanced sensory and computing capabilities, alongside enhanced connectivity, universal biometric technologies are being used in all aspects of our lives to improve our lives and make us more secure.

Nevertheless, in respect of legal, ethical and fundamental rights terms, citizens in the European Union are not fully aware of the uses of these technologies, nor the protection afforded to them by current national or EU legislation. For all these practices, there are serious data security concerns, especially relating to the collection and storage of biometric templates. Additionally, large-scale surveillance, particularly in public spaces and from mobile phones, is being used by authorities without informing citizens or obtaining their consent. The situation of discrimination and stigmatisation of the Uyghur in China demonstrates the violations of human rights that such technologies can be used for when applied without international standards.

Even though we are moving to an individualistic society which seeks to address our specific needs, there is also an authoritative and commercial benefit to grouping and categorising us. There are no definitions laid down for these categorisations and, as a result, we are subject to being put into pigeonholes which may not necessarily apply to us, nor to which we would choose to belong.

Additionally, if our vulnerabilities are detected through biometric techniques, this leaves us open to manipulation or exploitation, again putting us in a situation in which we may have no control. At the end of the day, our fundamental rights are being infringed when we can be categorised, or when someone else can know what we are thinking or what we intend to do.

Various new legislation is being considered in the European Union under the Commission’s work programme but by the time legislative proposals are transposed into national laws the technologies to which the legislations applies will already be outdated. When it come to biometric techniques, the lengthy decision making processes of Europe gives little confidence to the citizens of the Union.

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