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Biometric bouncers: ethics in access control

Biometric bouncers: ethics in access control
Ethical questions about the collection, storage, and utilization of sensitive biometric data demand attention before widespread deployment is warranted.
Physical security is a cornerstone of any enterprise, large or small. Access control systems serve as the digital gatekeepers, managing and regulating who enters a site and what areas they can access within its boundaries. Increasingly, biometric technologies like fingerprint and facial recognition are gaining prominence, promising an additional layer of robust security.
However, ethical questions about the collection, storage, and utilization of sensitive biometric data demand attention before widespread deployment is warranted.

The privacy conundrum

Biometric identification raises legitimate privacy concerns, and for good reason. Your fingerprints or facial parameters are uniquely you—they cannot be altered and become an inherent, lifelong identifier.
In a digital world awash with data breaches and cyber threats, the misuse of this indelible biometric information poses considerable risk to individuals.
“It is important to understand that we do not store any raw biometric data of staff,” said Steve Bell - Chief Technology Officer, Gallagher Security. “During enrolment, the finger/face is scanned for unique minutiae points which are then hashed into a mathematical representation called a template. It is not possible to reverse engineer this template back into a fingerprint of face.”
Regulations like the European Union's General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) provide a broad foundation for ethical data usage. GDPR outlines clear rules for consent, data minimization, transparency, and individual rights regarding their personal data. While a solid starting point, biometrics require further regulatory refinement due to their particular sensitivities.
“The leading regulations body for data privacy is GDPR, which, although is an EU body, provides the framework that we adhere to in Australia and New Zealand,” Bell added. “Ethical use of facial recognition is under constant review globally with different countries adopting differing positions. We encourage customers considering adopting biometric technology to undertake a privacy impact statement for their business prior to proceeding.”

Differing approaches to biometric data

Industry leaders are well aware of the ethical and regulatory implications surrounding biometric data management. Many have developed innovative approaches to mitigate privacy risks. For instance, some companies have moved away from the traditional method of storing raw biometric information.
Instead, they convert biometric scans into mathematical representations called templates—a process known as hashing. Hashing makes reverse engineering the original fingerprint or facial data virtually impossible, significantly enhancing security.
“The responsible use of biometric data requires a robust legal and ethical framework to address privacy, consent, and data protection concerns,” said Hanchul Kim, CEO, Suprema. “Regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe have set precedents for the handling of personal data, including biometric information. However, there's a need for specific guidelines that cover the unique aspects of biometric data, such as how it's collected, stored, used, and eventually destroyed.”
In response to these challenges, Suprema introduced the world’s first authentication method, 'Template on Mobile' (ToM). ToM represents a new paradigm in mobile access, securely storing facial templates on users' smartphones, thus eliminating the need for reliance on company servers for biometric data storage.
“This strategic shift empowers users with enhanced privacy and security, placing control of sensitive credential data in their hands,” Kim said. “Fundamentally, Suprema adheres to the GDPR—considered the strictest privacy and data protection law in the world—at all stages of product design and development.”

Transparency, consent, and accountability

For system integrators involved in deploying biometric access control solutions, the importance of transparent communication with clients cannot be overstated.
Explaining the implemented security measures and privacy safeguards is paramount in building trust. It is crucial for organizations considering the adoption of biometric technologies to perform a thorough Privacy Impact Statement to proactively assess any risks and ensure alignment with ethical and legal principles.
Informed consent is equally critical. Individuals have the right to understand how their biometric data will be used, stored, and for how long. If an organization wishes to repurpose biometric data for reasons outside of the initial consent, they must seek express permission from the individual.
Finally, accountability is key. In the event of a data breach or misuse, clear accountability mechanisms must exist and swift action must be taken to mitigate harm done to the victims.

Striking a balance

Biometric access control offers significant security and operational advantages. Imagine an employee seamlessly gaining secure access to their facility with a quick scan of their face or fingerprint.
The elimination of traditional access cards means a reduction of lost or stolen credentials and heightened control over access privileges.
However, these benefits must be soberly evaluated against potential privacy and misuse risks. Legal frameworks and ethical guidelines should be seen as allies rather than barriers, ensuring responsible use of biometric technologies. It's vital to implement safeguards like template hashing and technologies that put control in the hands of individuals.

The path forward

The future of access control is likely to feature biometrics. It's critical for security integrators to remain well-informed and act as proactive consultants with their clients.
By taking a security-first, privacy-conscious approach, the industry has a unique opportunity to ensure physical security solutions are as ethically robust as they are technologically sophisticated. The widespread adoption and trust in biometric access control depends on it.
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