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    Irish Times: Tight controls urged in use of personal data

    The Irish Times discusses a new report from the Irish Council for Bioethics, “Biometrics: Enhancing Security or Invading Privacy?” (5 MB pdf available here from the Irish Council for Bioethics; Privacy Lives archive copy).

    People are in effect giving up a piece of their bodies when they provide personal biometric data, meaning tight controls are needed to ensure the data is properly used, according to the Irish Council of Bioethics.

    The council this morning publishes a considered opinion, “Biometrics: Enhancing Security or Invading Privacy?”

    The substantial document raises important questions about the increased use of biometric data, such as fingerprints, iris scans and voice recognition, as a proof of identity.

    In it the council expresses serious concerns about how personal biometric information is collected and stored and whether there are sufficient controls on who can have access to it.

    The increased use of biometric data for comparatively trivial reasons encouraged the publication, according to council director, Dr Siobhán O’Sullivan. […]

    The compulsory application of the technology was also a concern, she said.

    The report notes, “The potential biometrics provides as an individual identifier has resulted in the widespread diffusion of this technology into people’s lives.” It points to the fact that, “Irish citizens now encounter biometric applications in many different situations, such as for workplace time and attendance, for physical and logical access (e.g. for laptops) and particularly in relation to international travel.”

    The report also says:

    Any technology which purports to collect and retain personal information in relation to an individual should be used only after careful consideration and only as to its necessity as is required for the intended use. In order for individuals to have confidence that this technology will properly provide the positive benefits which it can, manufacturers, policy makers and end users of this technology should be as transparent as possible in relation to the technology, the reasons for its use and how the information obtained from the technology is to be secured. The autonomy of individuals again features in this opinion document of the Council: in relation to biometric technology, the autonomy of the individual should be protected by allowing an individual’s involvement in the use of the technology, as much as is possible. There may be circumstances that are exceptions, where in the common good/public interest, the individual’s involvement may have to be limited. however, these circumstances should be limited and properly considered and discussed before the invocation of such exceptions.

    In June, federal legislators were seeking to require “that all U.S. workers verify their identity through fingerprints or an eye scan,” the Washington Post reported. At the time, I discussed the privacy and security problems that can arise from use of biometric data as identification systems.

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