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    Privacy Commissioner of Canada: Biometrics and the Challenges to Privacy

    The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has released a document concerning biometric identification systems — fingerprints, voice prints, palm prints, facial recognition and iris scans. There are possible privacy problems, because such “systems record personal information about identifiable individuals.”

    The Commissioner says that “this primer on biometrics and the systems that use them. It also describes some of the privacy implications raised by this emerging field, as well as measures to mitigate the risks.” Such privacy challenges include:

    Covert collection

    One concern is the covert collection and use of biometric data, simply because the data is publicly accessible.

    Facial information, for example, can easily be captured without individuals being aware they are being photographed. Fingerprints can also be easily collected because people leave latent prints when they touch hard surfaces. New iris-based systems can also surreptitiously gather images of people’s eyes from a distance of up to two metres. Similarly, palm and finger vein patterns can be captured covertly when people pass their hands over hidden recording devices.


    Another privacy concern arises when a biometric trait collected for one purpose is used without a person’s knowledge and consent for a different purpose.

    Once this identifier is collected and stored in a database, it can easily be accessed and matched against future samples, even if they are collected in entirely different contexts.

    While citizens often favour such cross-matching when police use fingerprints to track down suspects, the same technique can also rob innocent people of their right to live their lives in anonymity and freedom from surveillance.

    Read the full report to learn more about other privacy problems and suggestions for better privacy safeguards.

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