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The use of biometrics is accelerating and outpacing legislation


We may not always be in control of our biometric data but it’s ours, so we should think about what we are exchanging it for, says Melissa Wingard, who is a senior commercial technology lawyer.

Last year, FaceApp made headlines. The Russian-made app was allegedly transferring people’s personal photos to Russia and, allegedly, used them for geopolitical purposes. Ultimately, reminded Melissa Wingard, it became clear the allegations were unfounded, and the app wasn’t using the data for foreign affairs purposes.

But the scandal got Mellisa Wingard thinking about how often we are sharing our biometric data, and who we are sharing it with. Also, what are we getting in return?

“Privacy is a fundamental human right, and we should be cherishing it,” said Melissa Wingard during the Black Hat Asia 2020 summit.

Biometrics are said to be the future of cybersecurity. Therefore, it’s crucial to know how to handle your sensitive data securely.

What is biometrics?

Biometrics entails data that only we and no-one else has. But it’s much more than just a fingerprint or face ID, though these are the most important examples of biometrics that we use to protect our desktops or to buy stuff.

Melissa Wingard explained that biometrics data falls under two different categories - physiological and behavioral data.

We need to think more than just fingerprints and facial recognition. Although, they’re obviously the key ones. They are the ones that can be used by governments, law enforcement to recognize us,

said Melissa Wingard.

“These characteristics of individuals are distinguishing repeatable biometric features, which can be extracted for biometric recognition. So it’s more than just your fingerprint. It’s more than just your face. It can also include your DNA, what you smell like, the shape of your ear. Walking style can also be biometric data,” said Melissa Wingard.

Biometric data can also be the way you type or even include vein recognition.

“We need to think more than just fingerprints and facial recognition. Although, they’re obviously the key ones. They are the ones that can be used by governments, law enforcement to recognize us, and they are the ones that are often bringing privacy concerns at the moment because you’re finding law enforcement scanning crowds using facial recognition technology in order to identify people,” she said.

Read more: You are your password: why behavioral biometrics is the future

The use of biometrics is accelerating and outpacing legislation

Technology is outpacing legislation

This topic has become even more important since the beginning of the year. 

"This whole novel coronavirus has completely upended our lives. We are going to be moving rapidly towards a touchless technology and contactless pathways,” Melissa Wingard said.

Soon, our pathway to the office might be completely contactless.

“That’s a real acceleration towards the use of biometrics,” she said.

According to the expert, there are laws around the world that treat biometric data as sensitive private data, but definitely, not all laws are on that stage yet.

“Technology and governments’ use of that technology is outpacing the legislation. And we rely very heavily on that legislation to provide us with our rights,” explained Melissa Wingard.

In her speech at the Black Hat Asia 2020 summit, Melissa Wingard looked at Singapore’s, China’s, and India’s laws on data and privacy. As some of the jurisdictions provide very little protection for personal data and privacy, Melissa Wingard suggested some steps that we could take as individuals to protect our biometrics.

What are you getting in return?

“...rather than relying on companies to safeguard our data, or on governments to regulate its use, it is incumbent on each of us to question the steady trickle of our biological information in the hands of profit-led corporations,” Melissa Wingard quoted Madhumita Murgia, Financial Times European Technology correspondent.

So here’s what you can do, according to Melissa Wingard. Firstly, you should just think who’s collecting your biometrical data, what are they collecting it for, and read the privacy policy despite the fact you might find it boring.

“Make sure you are comfortable with what they are going to do with your data,” she said.

Secondly, it’s very important to ask yourself what goods, services, or joy you are getting in return for your biometric data. Melissa Wingard acknowledged that It’s not always possible to find an alternative solution that doesn’t require you to give out heaps of your personal information.

As an individual, you should also pay attention to what the members of parliament think about privacy.

“We need to balance this disconnect between the rights of individuals and the power of organizations. And the people that can do that, who can shift that balance is our government,” Melissa Wingard stated that the democratic process is important, even though it’s a long game.

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