Understanding what biometric data is may seem complex, but the answer, although it may not seem so, is in the palm of your hand.those lines that make up your fingerprints, your iris, the features of your face, the tone of your voice, your signature and your DNA are the biometric data that make you a unique and unrepeatable person.
Although it may seem like a dystopian fiction movie or a scene from the classic 1984 film, by simply clicking your fingers on your computer or pressing a button to unlock your cell phone, you can imprint your fingerprint. In some cases, with this valuable piece of information alone, an elite hacker could gain access to confidential information that only you know.
So that you don’t get caught out on the web and know where your personal data is going, in this article you will learn what biometric data is and what it is used for. You will also learn about the types of biometric data, biometric identification systems and the guidelines for the processing of biometric data that must be followed by the entities that have your information.
what is biometric data?
Biometric data are those personal data, whether physiological, physical or behavioral, that make it possible to identify a person .
But what is a person’s biometric data? You only have to look at the fingerprints of your hands to have found one of these. And the fact is that the body can provide a lot of information just by making contact with an object.
In fact, there is a guide for the treatment of biometric data which states that this type of information is considered sensitive data.
But why are biometric data classified as sensitive data? This is because it is very valuable information for various unscrupulous people, i.e., those who have access to it will have more tools to violate you by accessing your privacy.
You will probably say that this could not affect you. However, spam and phishing have increased by up to 6,000%, according to a recent IBM X-Force study published in La República. For cybercriminals, it is no longer necessary for you to leave your home to steal your information. Just by answering the wrong email and providing your signature, your biometric data could be exposed.
Biometric identification systems
After knowing what biometric data are, it is important to know that these identification processes are systems through which one or more of your characteristics can be encoded, measured and stored .
Once stored in the biometric database, they will be used to identify you through certain procedures that will have stored your physical, behavioral or bodily appearance.
This is the procedure by which you can be identified through one or more of the aforementioned characteristics .
Biometric identification systems are useful to determine the opening of a bank account, your entrance to a building or for more complex situations such as applying for a visa.
Within this process, biometric authentication will be given to those in charge, based on the analysis carried out.
is it safe to give biometric data?
As mentioned above, it is vitally important that when you provide your biometric personal data you are informed of who will be able to access it and for what purposes it will be used .
You may also, depending on the institution, request to be deleted from its biometric database at the end of your relationship with the institution.
what are biometric data used for?
Historically, the use of biometric data was initiated by the authorities for military, criminal or civilian identification access control. Today, sectors such as banking, retail and mobile commerce are demonstrating a real appetite for the benefits of biometric systems.
More importantly, awareness and acceptance of biometric data has increased in recent years, with millions of smartphone users unlocking their phones with a fingerprint or facial recognition on a daily basis.
Here are the most typical use cases for biometric analysis:
1. Law enforcement and public safety
As we mentioned before, biometric data is used for civil identification systems and even criminal identification, such as Automated Fingerprint (and palm print) Identification Systems. Basically, the aim is to store, search and retrieve fingerprint images and subject records.
Currently, automated biometric identification systems can create and store biometric information of a person, whether it comes from fingerprint, facial recognition or iris.
Also, live facial recognition and the ability to perform facial identification in a crowd in real time or post-event are gaining interest for public safety, especially at airports, borders or other sensitive points, such as stadiums or public spaces.
2. Border, travel and migration control
Whether you are traveling on vacation or for business purposes, the electronic passport (e-passport) is a required document for travel outside the country. The second generation of e-passports, also known as biometric passports, includes two stored fingerprints and a passport photo.
Unlike the old (mechanized) document, the e-passport has a chip embedded in its back cover and contains biometric data relating to the document holder’s facial image and personal data (name, gender, nationality and social security number).
This means that millions of travelers have a standardized digital portrait in a secure document that allows biometric authentication in seconds. This is a great advantage not only for automated border control systems (also known as electronic gates), but also for the traveler himself.
In addition, many countries have established biometric infrastructures to control migratory flows to and from their territories.
Fingerprint scanners and cameras at border crossings capture information that helps to identify travelers entering the country more accurately, thanks to the registration of biometric data. The same applies to consulates for visa applications and renewals.
3. Medical attention
Another use of biometric data is in health insurance programs. In many countries in Europe, biometric I.D. or fingerprints are used to confirm the identity of the bearer before accessing government services or medical care.
In addition, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics use health insurance cards to verify social security entitlements and protect the confidentiality of biometric personal data. This is primarily to prevent the health coverage program from collapsing due to fraudulent use of entitlements.
4. Access control
Access systems are becoming more efficient and accurate due to the emergence of biometric technology. In the past, companies would purchase swipe cards, key fobs or passwords to track the attendance of their workers.
These items can easily be forgotten or lost. For this reason, organizations are beginning to invest in biometric systems to manage employee identification and attendance, as their fingerprints, eyes and faces cannot be duplicated.
It also prevents unauthorized individuals from gaining access to an organization’s facilities or computer networks based on biometric authentication.
5. Protecting user identity
Governments and organizations around the world choose biometric technology to combat identity fraud, protect sensitive data, reduce costs and improve the overall user experience.
This is the case for banks that need to protect customer financial data and provide secure and easy transactions. By using biometric analysis, customers can easily access financial services with bodily characteristics that no one else can mimic.
6. Compilation of insights
For marketers, knowing what biometric data is and how to use it to their advantage offers them a unique opportunity to gain valuable insights into what their target audience is really thinking when they are in a physical store or browsing a website .
It’s a common human trait to not always say what we really think and sometimes a reaction can be so fleeting that it barely registers. This is where a user’s biometric data can help define what the pain points are in a user’s journey and inform conversion rate optimization and UX strategies.
Typically, biometrics tracks a handful of responses, such as eye tracking, facial expression analysis, galvanic skin response and brain activity. All of this is then analyzed to see how users navigate and react to a particular action.
As Camila Manera, Research Data Scientist at The Walt Disney Company and teacher of the online course Big data: in the mind of the consumer, mentions, “learning how to use data will help you know your consumers better, understand their purchase and consumption profiles in depth, and identify big insights.”
Types of biometric data
As you could see in the previous section, biometric data are very useful for applying for visas, passports, accessing health services or finances.
By the way, in these types of procedures where biometric data are requested, it is important that you have all the processes clear and the corresponding documents so that you do not have complications along the way. To do this, you need a checklist format in Excel to keep track of what you need and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.
Biometric identification systems are more common nowadays and one of their main functions is to prevent identity theft. Along these lines, according to Ayuda Ley Protección Datos, these are the most common methods for capturing biometric data:
Undoubtedly, fingerprints are one of the most used and requested biometric data, so it is necessary that you know how to protect the security of personal data that involves the use of your fingerprint, because it is the basis of all your information.
do you remember the day of the week you were born? Probably not, but if you ask someone who was with you during that time, they will be able to show you your birth certificate along with a document showing your fingerprints.
With a high accuracy rate and lower implementation cost, your fingerprints are part of the biometric database of many organizations.
Among the main methods to analyze them are:
Correlation: the fingerprint is examined comprehensively.
Minutiae: certain shapes that make up the fingerprint are examined.
Image: International Director
2. Facial recognition
This is the classic way to open doors with restricted access in fictional movies. However, there is no need to go to such extremes, because the definition of what biometric data related to facial recognition is, can be found on your cell phone.
The latest generation of smartphones use biometric data from your face to unlock the screen just by looking at the camera lens. What’s more, there is an infinite number of facial recognition apps that use this same system. But how is it possible? through the analysis of biometric characteristics in the features of your face.
Types of facial recognition
If to obtain your fingerprints, companies ask you to place them in a specific way a certain number of times, with the facial recognition system it will not be necessary. Among the main methods to analyze your face are:
Photometric: provides information about the face in its entirety.
Geometric: analyzes specific facial features such as the eyes, nose, mouth, among others. Likewise, it analyzes the angles of the face and their distance.
Mixed: combines both techniques for an in-depth analysis.
Unlike fingerprints, these biometric data change according to the age of the person, therefore, they are not static.
Image: IEEE Spectrum
3. Iris recognition
If you wonder what biometric data is, one of the best examples is found in technological systems that identify the iris of one of your eyes.
Yes, that same one, by which Elastigirl is almost eliminated by Edna Moda’s biometric data identification system in The Incredibles.
Iris recognition is considered one of the most reliable biometric authentication methods, as it does not change over time. This type of biometric data is collected with an infrared camera that observes this part of your eye in detail.
If we refer to the usability of it, you will have to stare at the device for it to work properly and capture your biometric data.
Image: Iris ID
4. Hand geometry recognition
If you thought that fingerprint recognition was the only biometric data that could be obtained from your hand, think again. With the advancement of technology, it is possible to reconstruct a 3D digital version of your hand. Through it, data such as your bone structure or the thickness of your fingers can be obtained.
According to a study conducted by Sandia National Laboratories, it was concluded that hand recognition is one of the most secure biometric systems available today. In fact, this mechanism identifies the features of this part of the arm even if it has undergone slight changes, such as irritations or inflammations.
Moreover, it is irrelevant for this mechanism if the hands are dirty, stained, wet or even if they contain rings or any other type of accessory. These biometric data are used to gain access to exclusive areas in an organization or to spaces that file confidential documents.
5. Vascular recognition
have you ever shone a flashlight on the palm of your hand and faintly noticed the outline of your veins? Well, one of the most complex biometric security systems today is vascular biometrics, a biometric technique that studies the tree of veins in the fingers or wrists.
Vascular biometry is carried out by a process called transmittance, which measures the amount of energy transferred from one body to another during a given fragment of time.
Due to the composition of hemoglobin in the blood, it is possible to absorb the infrared spectrum of the veins when performing this type of scan.
Consequently, the biometric data obtained in this process makes it possible to differentiate muscle tissues from veins and capillaries.
When such a scan is performed, the image is stored in a database. So when you are asked what biometric data is, you can cite this example and expose its great technological potential.
6. Signature recognition
One of the best ways to define what biometric data is is in signature recognition.
It is undoubtedly the most widely used biometric identification system in the world as a method of authentication. Through this procedure the signature is examined in two methods:
Simple matching. similarity between two signatures.
Dynamic test, shape and speed analysis.
Nowadays, the biometric data of a signature has been transferred to digital environments and some organizations use digital tablets to register it. This allows authentication to be performed in real time and makes it possible to act on possible irregularities.
In addition, this biometric data system facilitates the completion of documents in electronic format, contributes to the environment by the non-use of paper and streamlines the processes of any operation.
7. Handwriting recognition
This biometric data is recorded by software that allows optical character recognition (OCR).
Beyond being a biometric data collection system, handwriting recognition is a process based on the digitization of texts.
Although it can be used in legal matters and in other particular contexts, it is most often used to scan a text and then modify and edit it as needed.
This data can be obtained via an app on a smartphone or through specialized artifacts, such as the IRISPen.
Image: YouTube channel IRISLink ES
8. Voice recognition
oh, Siri! Like this friendly technology, voice is storable information in a biometric database using algorithms that enable voice recognition. However, noises can affect its accuracy.
Voice recognition is one of the examples of artificial intelligence today that collects our words and intonation to facilitate the way we perform routine activities.
Although it may not seem like it, this point is ideal to define what biometric data is through an everyday example in the ability to interpret voice commands.
9. Gait recognition
Yes, a person’s gait can tell us a lot about him or her; however, in scientific terms it is a biometric data that consists of analyzing the way we do it through special pads on the floor and high-resolution cameras.
what biometric data does it collect? The weight distribution in your stride, the speed of your steps and, in general, your overall gait.
Image: Biometric Update
Principles in the use of biometric data
Biometric data should be used, in most cases, for verification reasons, for example, when you make a face-to-face transaction, want to withdraw a significant amount of money or wish to enter a foreign country.
Once in that situation, the data you provide will be compared with previous versions. There are three principles that the entities that store your information must comply with:
1. Duty of disclosure
The entity that stores your information is obliged to inform you about the treatment to which your personal information will be subjected. These clauses are included in the document you will sign when you agree to have a relationship with this institution. Among the main points are:
What biometric data will be collected.
The purposes for which the biometric data will be processed.
Whether the biometric data will be transferred or disclosed to third parties.
The means to exercise the rights of access to biometric data.
2. Duty of security
Knowing what biometric data are also revolves around guarantees in security matters. The second pillar of an effective personal data protection system is the security of biometric data, i.e. the implementation of measures to guarantee and ensure the integrity, confidentiality and availability of personal data.
Therefore, any entity that carries out biometric data processing must maintain technical and organizational security measures to protect such data against damage, loss, alteration, destruction or unauthorized use, access or processing. In this regard, the company must:
Review that the biometric technology contemplates encryption mechanisms.
Avoid unnecessary cross-referencing of information between biometric systems.
Minimize the use of centralized databases.
Have an alternate site for storing biometric databases.
Restrict access to biometric data to authorized personnel.
Store all access to biometric data.
3. Duty of confidentiality
The entity involved in any phase of the processing of biometric data shall keep such data confidential. This obligation shall ensure that, even after the end of your relationship with the entity, the following is complied with:
Maintain secrecy with respect to biometric data.
Verify that data processors maintain complete confidentiality.
Establish controls or mechanisms for data processing.
Do not disclose biometric data to third parties without consent.
Clearly define authorized personnel.
Other aspects to take into account when storing information on a person
One of the most well-known documents worldwide, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), specifies that organizations should take the following points into consideration when storing information of a person belonging to the EU. Among the most important considerations are:
Explicit consent given by the individual for the processing of his or her biometric data for respective purposes.
To be used if necessary for the fulfillment of obligations and exercise of specific rights of the company or the person concerned, in relation to aspects related to labor law, safety and social protection.
To be used if necessary to protect the vital interests of the data subject.
When the biometric data have been previously made public.
When there is an essential public interest.
Image: The Economic Times
now you know what biometric data is and how important it is. Since they allow you to safeguard your identity and validate that you are unique to various entities, it is essential that you know how to protect them, wherever you go.
Therefore, it is important that you give them carefully and only to those institutions that you trust. Remember that, in many cases, you can request that they be removed from the biometric database when your relationship with that entity ends.