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A Briefing on Biometrics

By: James Azar

For thousands of years, fingerprints and other unique characteristics have been used to identify individuals. Fast forward to the nineteenth century and the Industrial Revolution started to revolutionize identity markers to distinguish between the general populace and criminals. These were accepted as natural evolutions and statistical ways of keeping track of people with ever-growing populations. 

Today, few of us even blink at being asked for ID or a driver’s license. After all, for most of us, these type of security measures make us feel safe knowing that our identity is being protected. 

There has been a drastic change, developing since the 1990s however, in the way everyday citizens feel about the safety of these identity markers. Once it became well known that biometrics had gone digital, and individual privacy was no longer private, biometrics and specifically the biometrics database entered a heated controversy regarding privacy. 

Privacy vs. Security

There are two sides to this issue. For example, to what extent does an individual citizen have privacy? If they commit a crime, for example, they forego their personal choices and their place can be searched legally, but without any regard for personal items. 

Taken to the next level, fans attending the Super Bowl in 2001 thought they were just having a good time when in fact, the police were scanning 100,000 faces to find mug shots of criminals in the audience. Once the Federal Government became involved in 2003, the biometric database became a widespread compendium identifying millions of citizens by race, religion, physical markers, sexual orientation, family status, criminal history and more. 

Many people wonder to what extent national security can or should override one’s privacy. Does privacy even exist? This is the heart of the controversy and both sides have made strong arguments. Despite concern over the abuse of the database as a way to target innocent people based on racial or other technicalities, the Biometrics Database is growing and being used globally. 

CIR - Common Identity Repository 

Although in the past biometrics seemed to be relegated to specific areas, the recent entrance of the European Union has raised more than a few eyebrows. Since the EU serves all of its citizens, a database of this size will make a profound impact on global identification and security. 

While the EU assures everyone, this is for security given the mass waves of migration, some argue that it has become destructive to individual civil rights and liberties. For example, these types of laws have also been used in dictatorships to control and round up the masses for genocide, exploitation, and slave trade. Even if these may seem like quite extreme examples, the question remains do they have the right or rather do we want them to have the right to collate our data.

The CIR would be composed of an enormous biometrics database, one made up of over 350 million people. This system has been created specifically to identify all people by name, date of birth, passport numbers, fingerprints and facial scans among other characteristics. In the right hands, namely legal and judicial systems, this may well expedite justice and prevent serious crimes, since the database is focused on criminals and migrants who are escaping from their countries, many of whom may have committed crimes. 

Find Out More 

If you would like to find out more, be sure to check out the CyberHub Engage YouTube Channel, for an in-depth look at how biometrics is changing everything we know about privacy and security globally.