Biometric Security and Surveillance: More than the Subject of Science Fiction

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If you’ve ever used the fingerprint scanning feature to access your smartphone, you’re familiar with biometric technology. Biometrics—the use of biological (physical and behavioral) characteristics such as fingerprint, face, and iris scanning to perform identity verification—is a maturing field, and applications of the technology are expected to grow in the years ahead. In fact, it’s predicted that biometrics will be used to authenticate 25% of all electronic transactions worldwide by 2020, according to International Data Corporation (IDC).

One reason is the need for better cybersecurity. Businesses lose millions of dollars every year to cybercrime—and those numbers are expected to increase as more companies embrace digital transformation. Also, identity theft is an ongoing problem, with 17.6 million US victims in 2014 according to the most recent figures available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). To guard against hackers, security experts recommend using multi-factor authentication techniques among other security strategies.

Multi-factor (or strong) authentication—the process of requiring multiple pieces of data to verify identity—makes it harder for cyberthieves to steal information. There are several methods of providing additional factors of authentication, including biometrics. For example, a cyberthief may steal a user’s login credentials to hack a system or bank account. But when authorization depends on user credentials plus a fingerprint scan or other biometric, the chances of a successful hack are greatly reduced. In fact, as many as 62% of data breaches in 2015 could have been avoided by using some form of strong authentication, such as biometric authorization.

People are becoming more comfortable with biometric technology, especially as a method of payment security. According to a study conducted by Visa, 64% of British consumers want to use biometrics for payment authentication. The same study also revealed that of those who favored biometrics, 80% were most comfortable with fingerprint recognition.

In the United States, fingerprints have been used by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies as a method of identification for over 100 years. States began digitizing fingerprints in the 1980s as the technology became available. And methods of capturing, cataloging, and searching fingerprint data have continued to improve with advancements in technology.

In 1999, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) rolled out the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), creating a vast data repository of fingerprint data collected from agencies all over the country to assist law enforcement efforts. This effort has grown and expanded into the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, which as of last year housed almost 122 million fingerprints and over 51 million facial images.

But, the field of biometrics is not limited to fingerprints and facial images. Other modalities are also used by law enforcement—and some, especially in the area of behavioral biometrics, are in varying stages of development. These include iris and retina scans, palm prints, odor, gait analysis (the way a person walks), eye movement, signature recognition, and others.

Some are exploring the use of biometrics beyond law enforcement applications. For instance, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is testing the use of facial recognition scanners at boarding gates. The goal is to use the technology to confirm a traveler’s identity instead of relying on a passport, thereby improving screening and reducing security lines. In addition, travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia now can avoid long security lines by paying for biometric authorization—via fingerprint or iris scanning—using a kiosk instead of waiting for security personnel to review their ID and boarding pass.

It’s safe to say that biometric security is no longer just the subject of science fiction—it has implications for the video surveillance industry. In fact, Germany is already proposing to introduce facial recognition software into cameras at airports and train stations in an effort to ramp up their anti-terrorism measures (Newsweek). It’s likely that more video surveillance use cases will emerge over time as the field of biometrics evolves and matures, policies are developed, and public concerns over its use diminish.

To learn more about this topic as well as Quantum’s solutions for video surveillance, visit our Video Surveillance Solutions page.

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