June 25, 2021

Washington Post on Biometrics

Today’s Washington Post has an article about the use of biometric technology, and civil-liberties resistance against it.

Interestingly, the article conflates two separate ideas: biometrics (the use of physical bodily characteristics to identify someone), and covert identification (identifying someone in a public place without their knowledge or consent). There are good civil-liberties arguments against covert identification. But the overt use of biometrics, especially in situations where identification already is expected and required, such as entry to an airplane, should be much less controversial.

There might even be ways of using biometrics that are more protective of privacy than existing identification measures are. Sometimes, you might be more comfortable having your face scanned than you would be revealing your name. Biometrics could give you that choice.

By implicitly assuming that biometric systems will be covert, the article, and apparently some of the sources it quotes, are missing the real potential of biometrics.

(Caveat: Biometrics aren’t worth much if they can’t reliably identify people, and there are good reasons to question the reliability of some biometrics.)