Raising the Issues of Biometrics

It’s reported in The Register that the latest edition of the Chaos Computer Club’s magazine contains a copy of the fingerprint of Wolfgang Schauble, the German Interior Minister. The image is reported to be printed on a plastic foil that registers a fingerprint when it is pressed against biometric readers.

Of course no one has yet been able to test the fingerprint to see if it’s genuine or if it works. It might just be a publicity stunt. And it is very close to April 1st. But the article does raise the important issue of the appropriateness of biometrics as a primary method of authentication.

It’s clear we need a lot more education and debate about the merits of fingerprints and other forms of biometric identification, especially as in the words of Sir James Crosby, former CEO of HBOS, Identity is the new currency.

There are widespread assumptions that physiological biometrics such as fingerprints and DNA are foolproof – even though they are easily obtainable and potentially transferable – and that readers will have adequate safeguards to detect forgeries. We also expect that in the event of a compromise there will be a simple means of resolving the situation.

The public needs more assurance about the design of biometric systems. That’s not to say they cannot play a useful part in identity management systems. Biometrics offer many advantages, and the technology has been under development for a long time. But there are still question marks about proposed implementations. Let’s have a heated debate.