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Americans give thumbs up to biometrics

Fear over identity theft spurs wider acceptance

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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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