Biometrics 2007: Biometrics help security trump privacy


Biometrics 2007: Biometrics help security trump privacy

Eleanor Dallaway

Biometric technologies and plans for increased surveillance are jeopardising society's right to liberty and privacy, David Murakami Wood, managing editor of Surveillance & Society, said at the Biometrics 2007 conference last week.

Biometric technologies are increasingly emerging into society. They were initially used in airports but are now becoming commonplace in schools, bars and elsewhere, he said.

"Now we are looking at mobile cameras, micro cameras, chips, and smart dust. How can you regulate this, and where does it stop?" he said.

"These technologies should enable people," he argued, not deny them of their fundamental right to privacy. "The idea that people should fit into the technology and behave to suit that technology has emerged. This is wrong. It should be the other way round."

Military ideas are creeping into civilian society, said Wood, describing "a society where security trumps civilian liberties", and privacy becomes secondary.

"Britain has witnessed the implementation of incompetent surveillance systems, and trust has been lost. How do we regain that trust in the performance of technology?" At the moment, Wood says, "The state sees the right to acquire our data as paramount."

He listed charges and imprisonment for ID card non-compliance as an example. "It's our personal data", he argued. "Shouldn't the government pay to acquire our data?"

National databases, he said are a platform for prejudice. "On the national DNA database, there is preponderance of black men's DNA. This is no coincidence. Why don't they just have everyone's DNA? Where's the consistency?" asked Wood.

CCTV does not prevent crime, Wood argued. "It helps with detecting after the crime has been committed, but it doesn't stop it happening," he said. "Political figures are way too impressed with the latest technologies. But we need to look into what we really need, and not just jump on the latest 'new thing'."

He said people are becoming increasingly willing to share their privacy - this can be seen in the huge increase in popularity of social networking sites. But is offering ourselves up to surveillance a step too far? "We need a reciprocal society where surveillance and accountability are reciprocal. Liberty and privacy should be an integral part of national security, not in opposition to it. Technologies should be fitted to policies, not vice versa," said Wood.

"Everything the industry is doing is working towards a 'type' of security. It's not just about individual competitions and technology wars though. Technologists have a responsibility to allow a societal debate, and maybe even start it," Wood told his predominantly-technologist audience. "Because at the moment, policy is still a long way behind technological development," he concluded.

A version of this article first appeared on the website of Infosecurity magazine.

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