Demystifying Biometrics: Security Benefits and the Debate

June 27, 2024
While biometric technology offers numerous security advantages, it also delves into the realm of highly personal information.

The influx of digital identity fraud is driving the adoption of more secure identity verification methods, like the use of biometric authentication tools. These solutions are much more capable of adapting to fraudsters’ evolving tactics than traditional user verification such as passwords and PINs.

However, the increased integration of biometric tools in enterprise security has sparked a lively debate around user privacy. This technology presents a double-edged sword: enhanced security while also collecting sensitive personal data.

This has prompted regulatory bodies around the world to scramble and establish clear guidelines for data collection and storage practices. Recent actions by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) raise questions about its implementation. The FTC's rejection of a proposed age verification system using biometric technology underscores potential compliance issues. 

With each new regulation, the landscape becomes more complex for companies seeking to leverage biometrics effectively. To balance robust, seamless security with user privacy and remain compliant, organizations must carefully navigate this evolving regulatory environment. Choosing biometric authentication strategies that adhere to today’s security threats and compliance standards is crucial.

Rising Biometric Verification Concerns

The rise of biometric verification for tasks like identity and age verification has ignited a heated debate. While biometric technology offers numerous security advantages, it also delves into the realm of highly personal information. Consumers and regulators alike are raising their voices, questioning the data collection and storage practices behind these systems. Specific concerns surrounding biometric verification include:

  1. Data Sensitivity: Biometric data, including facial recognition scans, iris patterns, or fingerprints, is unique and irreplaceable. A compromised biometric cannot be easily changed – unlike a password. If a data breach occurs, significant security concerns around the wellbeing of users’ irreplicable credentials arise. The handling of minors' biometric data raises additional ethical and legal considerations. Potential long-term privacy consequences may arise for children who may not comprehend the implications of sharing their biometric data.
  2. Minimal Transparency with Data: The sharing of biometric data with third parties raises privacy concerns, particularly when user consent is unclear, or the purpose of data use is not transparent. It is important to share comprehensive information about who can access users’ data and for what specific purposes it will be used.
  3. Bias in the Algorithm: Concerns have emerged regarding potential bias within biometric algorithms used. They may exhibit inaccuracies when identifying individuals from certain demographic groups, particularly people of color and underrepresented communities. This raises critical questions about fairness and representativeness in these systems. Biased identification in applications can have serious consequences, potentially leading to discrimination or denial of access.

Breaking Down Biometric Verification Strategies

Modern technology offers an array of verification methods, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the right method requires careful consideration of several key factors, including compliance, security, accuracy, and user experience. By understanding the three common strategies below, enterprises can identify the verification method that aligns with these key factors and best suits their infrastructure.

  1. Credit Bureaus: One common approach to verifying identity relies on readily available personal information – a combination of name, address, and a unique identifier like a Social Security number. This method boasts several advantages: implementation is straightforward, there's minimal inconvenience for the user, and results are delivered quickly. However, this seemingly simple approach comes with limitations that can be critical depending on the context.

Credit bureaus can exclude individuals with limited credit history, leaving them out of the verification process entirely. It doesn't guarantee the person using this information is the rightful owner, since there is no verification against credible references like government-issued IDs. Data breaches can also expose this information, and inconsistencies between reports from different sources can lead to false positives and security risks.

  1. Online Identity Verification: This method offers a strong solution for remote identity verification, as it references government-issued IDs to analyze the authenticity of users onboarding and logging in. Online identity verification offers significant benefits, including high verification assurance and minimized risk of identity theft and fraudulent transactions. Additionally, it facilitates compliance with Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations, which are crucial for many businesses.

Online verification provides definitive results that can be tailored to specific risk assessments. However, a potential limitation exists. Some vendors might have geographic restrictions on the types of IDs they can support. This could pose challenges if users have documents issued outside of the covered regions. To ensure a smooth verification process, choosing a vendor with comprehensive ID support is essential.

  1. Database Solutions: Some verification methods use online and offline data sources to instantly assess an online identity's authenticity. This approach enables a swift verification process and requires no user interaction, offering a seamless experience. Additionally, these systems can analyze vast amounts of data from various sources, minimizing the need for manual intervention.

However, one major concern with this strategy is vulnerability to spoofing attacks. Malicious actors can create fake online identities and social profiles, potentially fooling the verification system.

These database solutions also don't necessarily confirm if the individual using the identity is its legitimate owner. There's often no verification against authoritative references like government-issued IDs, leaving a potential loophole for identity theft. While these methods offer speed and convenience, ensuring their accuracy requires a more holistic approach to verification.

Adapting to Evolving Expectations

The increasing focus on responsible data collection in biometric verification technology highlights the critical need for businesses to choose the right tools for user identity protection. By prioritizing compliance, security, accuracy, and user experience, businesses can integrate solutions that harness the full potential of biometrics while navigating the evolving regulatory landscape.

About the Author

Veronica Torres

Veronica currently serves as Worldwide Privacy and Regulatory Counsel for Jumio. She provides strategic legal counsel regarding business processes, applications, and technologies to ensure compliance with all privacy laws.