Americans give thumbs up to biometrics

Fear over identity theft spurs wider acceptance

Most Americans are willing to accept increased use of biometric technologies by private sector firms, providing proper privacy safeguards are applied.

That's the main finding of a study funded by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics and developed by lobbyists Privacy & American Business (P&AB).

Although consumer experience with biometrics is generally low, 56 per cent to 91 per cent quizzed in the study say it is acceptable for the private sector to request a biometric scan (using, for example, fingerprint recognition technology) when:

  • Checking the identity of an individual buying a gun against a database of convicted felons (91 per cent)
  • Verifying the identity of those making credit card purchases (85 per cent)
  • Withdrawing funds from an ATM (78 per cent)
  • Accessing sensitive files, such as medical or financial records (77 per cent)
  • Conducting background checks (76 per cent)
  • Screening out those banned from gambling or professional card counters in casinos (56 per cent)

The survey, conducted through a series of phone interviews last August, shows a strong link between public concerns over identity fraud and support for the uses of biometrics by both the public and private sectors.



The vast majority of those questioned agreed that a number of privacy safeguards need to be put in place if biometrics systems are to be used. These include: informed consent, people should be informed about the uses an organization will make of their biometric ID and why it is needed; a prohibition on using biometric IDs for any purpose other than those originally described to the individual and safeguards so people can have any rejection of their identity re-examined and verified.

Most of those quizzed also wanted biometric IDs to be kept apart from other personal identifiers and a ban on sharing biometric data between organisations without specific authorisation either by the individual concerned or through a mandatory legal requirement.

People should be told when biometric identifiers are being collected - except where secrecy is needed in national security situations, the majority of Americans surveyed also believe.

Privacy safeguards should be established by legislators and adopted voluntarily by companies as a way of gaining consumers trust, the survey (more details of which can be found here) indicates. ®

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