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Biometric Technologies in Public Use and Ethics

With the boost of technology, the things that were a part of futuristic fiction films become a reality. Biometric technologies gain popularity not only applied to criminal investigations, but also in the sphere of personal safety. For example, the fingerprint scan is widely practiced to provide the security of mobile phone users. Besides, biometrics is a part of corporate security schemes. It allows unmanned access regulation to protected locations due to the use of hand geometry or iris scan. Still, biometric technologies are mostly applied in criminology. Fingerprinting, palm capture, facial or iris recognition, and DNA analysis are used to prove the guilt of the lawbreakers or release the wrongly accused. However, the idea of using biometric identification tools in public places to recognize criminals gave rise to controversial opinions. The supporters of these methods speak of the large opportunities of cyberspace regulation, while the opposing party appeals to the issue of cyber ethics and personal information protection. Cyberethics is defined as a tool “to capture the wide range of moral issues involving cyber technology” (Tavani, 2012, p.5). The following report presents the possibilities of contemporary biometric technologies, their public application, and the aspect of cyberethics.

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Opportunities of Biometric Technologies

Biometric technologies are widely applied. They are the electronic methods to recognize or verify the personal identity of an individual with the help of certain characteristics. These characteristics may be both physiological and behavioral (Campisi, 2013). The methods used for verification or identification include fingerprints, hand geometry, voice, keystroke, iris, retina, gait, skin spectroscopy, vein pattern, deoxyribonucleic acid, facial thermography, ear pattern, lip print, etc. (Mitra & Gofman, 2017). Biometrics suggests new opportunities in mobile and healthcare systems, social networks, gaming technologies, and in-state security (Mitra & Gofman, 2017). Up-to-date devices can store much information and usually have access to the internet. It makes them vulnerable and attractive for computer hacker attacks. Since passwords are not effective enough, biometric protection can be applied.

“Mobile biometric technologies can be implemented using a built-in camera, microphone, and touch screen which enable the collection of multimodal biometric data of a user” (Mitra & Gofman, 2017, p.78). They can secure services like online banking or e-commerce. Healthcare systems also apply biometric technologies to meet the increased demand for data security. Apart from safety, biometrics also reduce the time necessary to get access to the system. Social networks, uniting millions of people around the world, have become a place for cyber-crimes. For example, some networks use facial recognition to identify users (Mitra & Gofman, 2017). However, national security and public safety are the major concerns of biometrics development. In these fields, the application of technologies should be careful and considered to avoid abuses of personal information (Campisi, 2013).

Biometric Technologies as Means of Regulation

Identity verification has become a primary interest in biometric technologies since the terroristic threat increased. Biometrics is applied to the spheres of visa or immigration documents and for identification cards (Mitra & Gofman, 2017). The advantage of biometric identification is that the proof of identity cannot be lost, forgotten, or falsifies like ID cards or passwords. It makes biometric technologies reliable.

Taking into account the efficiency of biometric technologies, they are spread further than private safety. At the level of national security, they are used for the identification of possible terrorists through facial scanning or identification of immigrants with the help of fingerprint technology (Ross, 2014). Biometrics proves to be effective in business as well. Retina or palm scanners can be used to confirm transactions with finance or protect secret data.

Together with the efficiency and reliability of biometric technologies, there appears a legislative problem. The technology is developing faster than the laws are created. Consequently, there are some state laws on biometric data collecting by governmental bodies, but there are no laws regulating the collection and use of biometric information by private individuals (Ross, 2014).

Kindt (as cited in Campisi, 2013, p.369) mentions that “very few countries have enacted general legislation regulating the processing of biometric data. Some countries have (more recently) enacted legislation regulating the use of camera surveillance.” Thus, with the lack of legal grounds, the effective application of biometrics is a controversial issue.

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Biometric technologies are efficient instruments of regulation and identification. At present, technological progress is at the stage, which allows the use of biometrics in public places. The current situation in the world security demands the application of technology to provide the protection of humanity from possible threats. Still, together with the application of biometrics, there appears a matter of human rights. It is considered that a human body is integral, and its application by biometrics raises the notion of so-called “human dignity” (Campisi, 2013). Consequently, the use of biometrics as a regulatory method implies a certain ethical context.

Public Use of Biometric Technologies: Ethics Perspective

The balance of privacy and technology is a disputable question in the case of biometric technologies use. It is certain that the progress in the sphere of biometrics introduces advantages for private and global issues. The biometric information, such as fingerprints, hand contour, DNA samples, iris scans, are used to verify and identify a person with the help of corresponding devices (Kumar & Zhang, 2010). The biometric data are personal and cannot be easily changed in case they were used improperly. Thus, there appears a problem of ethics and private data protection as a result of biometric technologies application. The personal data privacy should be the primary concern of authorities using biometric information. “Improper collection and handling of biometric data can lead to negative consequences such as data mining, data profiling, excessive retention, and risk of identity theft, etc.” (Kumar & Zhang, 2010, p.2). Thus, the collected personal data should be protected from unauthorized access and use.

The ethical aspect of biometric technologies is connected with some Ethical Theories (Tavani, 2012). They are duty-based and contract-based theories. The first one is related to deontology and underlines the importance of duty and respect for other people. Still, it is too concentrated on obligation and pays little attention to the role of happiness. The second one deals with rights. It is considered to give a motivation for morality (Tavani, 2012). Biometrics is intended to calm the fears of security that are increasing. Still, there is another danger that without appropriate regulation, biometric technologies can lead to interference in the spheres of dignity and privacy. On the whole, the ethical debate on the issue of biometrical technologies application is concentrated around privacy. Privacy is considered a personal value and need.

Westin (as cited in Kumar & Zhang, 2010, p.104) states that “Privacy is the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.” There are two opposite approaches to biometric technologies in the ethical discussions of the problem of privacy. On the one hand, biometrics is treated as a danger to privacy. On the other hand, it is considered a favorable issue that guarantees a more secure identification than any codes. However, it is necessary to examine the concepts of privacy, security, and liberty in different contexts. Various situations change the perception of the same values. The matters of national security, keeping the public order, law enforcement, healthcare, business, and private settings demand different treatment (Kumar & Zhang, 2010).

It is not possible to come to a unique and correct decision when it comes to the problem of national security and individual privacy (Tavani, 2012). It is accepted that national security is before individual privacy, even in traditionally democratic societies. Hence, even with much attention to individual values, the importance of privacy and ethical considerations, the interests of national safety are a primary concern. It is one more reason for controversies in debates on laws in the field of cyberspace (Tavani, 2012).


It is accepted that doing something legal is doing right. Nevertheless, the actions may be legal and still unethical, and right from the moral point of view, but contradicting some laws. The issue of biometric technologies application is disputable due to the ethical aspects. Some people acknowledge the necessity of using technological progress results to improve the security of states. Other citizens consider collecting biometric data a violation of their rights for privacy. The debates may last for years, but I suppose that safety interests should be considered first of all. The tightness between the civil freedoms and national security should not be a problem. Since there is an opportunity to prevent the threat of terrorism or detect a crime, the technology should be used to the necessary extent. Apart from preventive function, there is also a controlling one.

The proper application of biometric technologies can provide better immigration control and reduce the number of illegal workers, which also are the crucial problems of contemporary society. Finally, the application of biometric data in the social sphere will contribute to the increasing efficiency of public services delivery. However, too much of a good thing is good for nothing. The state bodies authorized to collect, process, use, and store the biometric information should be aware of the ethical side of the problem. The methods using biometric technologies will be effective as long as the people trust the authorities that deal with them. Thus, every new opportunity which is aimed for good should be used appropriately. The inadequate application of personal data may become a bigger threat than the ones it was supposed to prevent.

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Campisi, P. (Ed.). (2013). Security and privacy in biometrics. London, UK: Springer.

Kumar, A., & Zhang, D. (Eds.). (2010). Ethics and policy of biometrics. Berlin, Germany: Springer.

Mitra, S., & Gofman, M. (Eds.). (2017). Biometrics in a data-driven world: Trends, technologies, and challenges. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis Group.

Ross, P. (2014). Biometrics: A developing regulatory landscape for a new era of technology. Web.

Tavani, H.T. (2012). Ethics and technology: Controversies, questions, and strategies for ethical computing (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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