Biometrics has several advantages and benefits
What is it about biometrics that triggers so
much worry? 
Initial resistance gives way to mainstream acceptance when biometric technology allows convenient and secure access to healthcare, banking services, amusement parks, office buildings. What is it about biometrics that triggers so much worry? In the past, concerns seemed to have their foundation in the use of fingerprints in law enforcement; the association between fingerprints and criminality was strong.  Phil Scarfo, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Lumidigm (part of HID Global) explains that today’s objections seem to be more related to fears that we are handing over our identities to government and commercial organisations, that we are being watched.

While the adoption of biometrics has never been more widespread — highly successful security- and privacy-enhancing applications have been deployed worldwide, across all industries — the general public narrative remains focused more on the risks rather than the benefits. Concerns about user privacy, reliability, performance and even personal safety often dominate many of today’s articles and discussions involving biometrics. While all of these concerns merit debate, the industry finds itself in the position of having to correct a wide range of misconceptions and myths while a discussion of the very real benefits of biometrics is left by the wayside.

In some developing countries where access to government programs are limited biometrics identification can make the difference between citizens getting access to food

Who is it? (It’s personal.)

Perhaps the reason is because biometrics is so… personal. The irony is that, if other industries trading in identities were measured on an equivalent risk-only basis, companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon wouldn’t be the household names that they are. These and other companies thrive because, despite the very credible risks they pose to user identity, privacy and security, they also offer significant and measureable benefits that both users and providers value and, indeed, seek.

The level of personalisation and services that can be provided based on user identity is highly desirable. Shoring up that user identity with biometrics allows for a higher level of security, privacy and convenience. The risks of user authentication in transactions are already generally accepted; the benefits of biometrics are substantial. With biometrics, there is no form of user authentication that is more democratic, more inclusive or more tightly linked to personal identity. There are no language, literacy, race, gender or age barriers limiting the use of biometrics. All other user authentication methodologies, including passwords, cards, tokens or other physical credentials, have the same risks as biometrics but are far more difficult for users to understand, use, remember or deploy. And, only biometrics definitively say “who” is transacting.

Value of biometric technology in everyday lives

The level of personalisation and services that can be provided based on user identity is highly desirable
Biometrics allows for a higher level of security, privacy and convenience

Automating biometric authentication such that it’s a fingerprint sensor (for example) that recognises the customer, not a clerk, allows for many desirable benefits. Banks in Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and elsewhere are showcasing the utility of biometrics. They have demonstrated that customer security is enhanced with biometrics. Equally important, services are made more convenient and secure. Customers welcome the simplicity of biometrics. They see biometric authentication as a more convenient way to transact business and a significant benefit that is being offered by their provider. Banks also see this as a way to lower the risk of identity theft and fraud while allowing them to offer more tailored and enhanced services. This more holistic view of “convenient security” makes them better able to retain existing customers and to grow their businesses. Biometric authentication is used at over 50,000 ATMs in Brazil; the use of biometrics is quite routine for millions of bank customers there.

In healthcare settings, providers, payers and patients all benefit from having strong authentication via biometrics. Knowing “who” with a greater degree of certainty helps both user and provider ensure that services are being delivered to the proper individual. Fewer medical mistakes and greater efficiency is realised. This ultimately helps to lower costs and improve patient care. Additionally, compliance requirements like those imposed in North America by DEA to manage Electronic Prescription of Controlled Substances (EPCS) are also made simpler by the use of biometrics. Doctors no longer need to reach for a physical credential or one-time password (OTP) to meet compliance requirements or to do their job. A simple “touch and go” approach to workflow in the hospital enabling secure identification at a shared user workstation provides tailored, personalized and secure access to medical patient records. This is an enhancement in both cost efficiency and administrative relief.

In some developing countries where literacy or access to government programs are limited and where there are real and compelling challenges, biometrics identification can make the difference between citizens getting access to food, benefits or critical services.

Patients in a nationwide Mexico healthcare system can biometrically identify themselves and ensure that the person getting treatment is who they claim to be and not someone pretending to be that individual or an identity thief. Small children in Africa who are desperately in need of life saving vaccines have demonstrated that the use of biometrics by medical staff can keep track of those who have been treated, ensuring that more children are protected and fewer vaccines are wasted.

In healthcare settings, providers, payers and patients all benefit from having strong authentication via biometrics
Fewer medical mistakes and greater efficiency is realised with Biometrics

And, more recently, biometrics are now being used in consumer applications and on smart devices and cell phones to protect private and sensitive information that otherwise might be vulnerable simply because users value convenience over security. Although the risk of spoofing is legitimate, is that risk really greater than not locking their personal devices for lack of convenience?

Benefits of biometric technology

The use of biometrics in every one of these applications provided one or more of the following benefits: more security, more certainty about who was transacting, more privacy, more ease of use, more regulatory compliance, more cost savings, more convenience, and on and on.

In short, whether the application or use case is a serious commercial enterprise application, civil program or just a personal security assistant, the value and benefit of biometrics is and will likely continue to be compelling. We live in a complex digital world where our digital identities have become increasingly important and where we will constantly face threats. Risks are an inescapable reality and must, therefore, be considered. But it is also short-sighted to overlook the benefits as these may often far outweigh the risks.

Many people will continue to focus what’s wrong with biometrics. However, expectation is that as people better understand what’s right with the technology and the benefits offered, biometric authentication will become even more accepted and mainstream.

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Phil Scarfo Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Lumidigm

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