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Biometric Technology: Regulatory and Privacy Concerns

August 12, 2019
Biometric information is data involving any physical or behavioral human characteristic; common examples include fingerprints, retina scans, and facial patterns. In recent years, the use of this information has become increasingly commonplace. In 2018, 62% of companies reportedly already used biometric information for verification and access purposes.[1] Higher security is thought to incentivize this switch from passwords and IDs to biometric authentication.

According to a 2015 study, 73% of adults in the US and UK have used the same password for multiple accounts, and 47% have not changed their password in five years – an alarming practice given a recent Verizon Data Breach Investigations Reports which found that 81% of hacking-related breaches were due to poor passwords.[2][3]

Biometric authentication is a remedy to these vulnerabilities—having a unique physical identifier is not only more efficient but also more difficult to steal. However, the use of biometric information comes with many concerns regarding consumer privacy, and there are no national regulatory standards to address these concerns. With the rising economic potential and industrial growth of biometric technology, there will likely be debates over the inherent tradeoff between convenience and privacy at the heart of this innovation. As such, this article seeks to objectively explore the current state of the field.

Privacy Concerns

Privacy concerns and potential data breaches pose an issue to many. According to a Spiceworks survey, 48% of participants cited the risks of stolen biometric data as a top security concern.[4] Biometric data is special in that it is a permanent and unique piece of information that follows you. You may be able to change a password or get a new credit card, but you cannot get a new fingerprint. That is why many are concerned with the risks of storing biometric data. In 2015, the Office of Personnel Management was the victim of a cyber breach that exposed 22.1 million people’s sensitive data, including fingerprint information – thus reinforcing the pertinence of these anxieties.[5]

Image: Getting an Iris Scan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.Image: Getting an Iris Scan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

There is also concern that the government can use this technology to essentially track citizens, thus creating a surveillance state.[6] Biometrics, ScientificAmerican argues, “could turn existing surveillance systems into something…more powerful and much more invasive.” Researchers are working on programs that would be able to identify a face in a crowd, or even a camera that takes rapid-fire iris scans from 10 meters away.[7] In fact, China’s new “citizen score” merit system is already using facial recognition as one way to track its citizens, and assign them a behavioral score.[8] In airports, the Department of Homeland Security is in the process of expanding a program to capture the facial information of every airplane passenger, in an attempt to track non-immigrant foreigners.[9] However, they would also have to take the facial data of every citizen, which many argue is an invasion of privacy. “Congress authorized scans of foreign nationals. DHS heard that and decided to scan everyone. That’s not how a democracy is supposed to work,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University.[10] Because of concerns like these, many have taken to the law as a way to address the privacy risks posed by biometric data.

Image: Touchless Fingerprint Detector at Airport. Source: Wikimedia Commons.Image: Touchless Fingerprint Detector at Airport. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Regulation

Currently, there is no standardized, federal law that regulates the aggregation of biometric data. However many states have started to address the issue independently. In 2008, Illinois was the first state to create a biometric privacy law – the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).[11] Texas and Washington followed suit in 2009 and 2017, respectively.[12] Multiple other states have tried or are still trying to pass similar statutes, including Arizona, Florida, and Massachusetts. Most of these acts say that it is illegal to collect and store biometric data for commercial purposes without the owner’s knowledge and consent. However, BIPA is the only one to give consumers the right to sue for damages.[13]

Furthermore, the legal definition of biometric data still requires standardization. For example, under CCPA, biometric information includes keystroke, gait patterns, as well as exercise data, while the definition under Texas and Illinois’ acts does not.[14] Since 2017, over 200 class action lawsuits have been filed across the country claiming a violation of BIPA.[15] Facebook, Google, and Snapchat have all been sued under BIPA, and the former two are still awaiting a final decision by the courts. Given the varied and relatively recent passage of the state laws, there is no precedent to follow on biometric jurisprudence, and many are looking to these decisions for precedence. In a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Illinois, Six Flags must pay damages to a boy for collecting his fingerprint without consent. Most importantly, however, the court showed that a person need not establish they suffered actual harm, a decision that does not bode well for Facebook in its current suit.[16]

Economic Implications

With the rise of biometric technology comes economic implications as well. The biometrics system market is projected to grow from $16.8 billion in 2018 to $41.8 billion by 2023, with rising stocks as well.[17] Many new products and patents are also being introduced by companies seeking to get a jumpstart in the burgeoning sector. In 2016, Amazon filed a patent application that prompts users to “perform an action in view of a camera or sensor” to pay for a product. Other industries are also moving to keep up.[18] The recent surge in biometric privacy lawsuits have caused law firms to create specialty groups and hire attorneys solely to address biometric privacy litigation.[19]

Ultimately, the biometrics industry has become increasingly pertinent for public and private groups alike. It has sparked debate on privacy concerns, economic impact, and future legislation to name a few. However, in the next few years, we will still likely see a fierce debate on what has ultimately been at the heart of all these controversial issues—the dynamic between privacy and efficiency.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

References

  [1] https://www.csoonline.com/article/3339565/what-is-biometrics-and-why-collecting-biometric-data-is-risky.html

  [2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2017/08/04/beyond-security-biometrics-integration-into-everyday-life/#70856cd7431f

  [3] https://www.tracesecurity.com/blog/articles/81-of-company-data-breaches-due-to-poor-passwords

  [4] https://www.csoonline.com/article/3339565/what-is-biometrics-and-why-collecting-biometric-data-is-risky.html

  [5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2015/07/09/hack-of-security-clearance-system-affected-21-5-million-people-federal-authorities-say/?utm_term=.a67bef52ca66

  [6] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/biometric-security-poses-huge-privacy-risks/?redirect=1

  [7] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/biometric-security-poses-huge-privacy-risks/?redirect=1

  [8] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/02/china-surveillance/552203/

  [9] https://apnews.com/acf6bab1f5ab4bc59284985a3babdca4

  [10] Ibid.

  [11] https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=3004&ChapterID=57

  [12] https://blog.jipel.law.nyu.edu/2019/03/the-future-of-biometric-data-privacy-law-and-bipa/

  [13] https://blog.jipel.law.nyu.edu/2019/03/the-future-of-biometric-data-privacy-law-and-bipa/

  [14] https://www.natlawreview.com/article/biometric-bandwagon-rolls-biometric-legislation-proposed-across-united-states

  [15] https://blog.jipel.law.nyu.edu/2019/03/the-future-of-biometric-data-privacy-law-and-bipa/

  [16] https://fortune.com/2019/01/28/facebook-face-scanning-bipa/

  [17] https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/biometric-technologies.asp

  [18] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2017/08/04/beyond-security-biometrics-integration-into-everyday-life/#70856cd7431f

  [19] https://news.bloomberglaw.com/privacy-and-data-security/surge-in-biometric-privacy-suits-causes-firms-to-boost-specialty

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  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>