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Volume 32, Issue 4

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Thursday, 30 August 2018 15:01

We Are Being Watched Continually

Written by  Dr. BILL POMFRET

Biometric technologies are on the rise internationally and they intend to invade our privacy. Just like all such intrusions, it will be taken as far as the owner of that intrusion finds it is profitable to do so.

Canada is fast becoming a surveillance state, with cameras on almost every street commonplace. Big businesses are also using face recognition, behavior analysis surveillance cameras, and biometric profiling to monitor and store our shopping, driving, and even social patterns. Snooping into our habits, movements, and private lives has never been easier.

Business continuity planners must prepare their organizations – and their personal lives – for this next level of intrusion.

Dismayed at its shrinking power to market to consumers via traditional media, the private sector is now proposing to reach potential customers in ways that should have us all concerned. There is an enormous, pent-up demand for personalized location advertising, whether it is on your cellphone, car radio, or billboards as you walk by on the streets. Yes, advertisers are turning to "intelligent" digital billboards that use cameras to watch you watching the ads!

In Germany, developers have placed video cameras into street advertisements attempting to discern people's emotional reactions to their ads, according to Washington-based privacy advocate Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

EPIC warns this type of surveillance encroaches on civil liberties. Such face, voice, and behavior technology could be a means of tracking individuals on a mass level their entire lives. Pushed by the demands of advertisers and security-minded governments, these technologies are becoming so increasingly smart and intrusive they now resemble something out of science fiction.

By electronically recording data about an individual's physical attributes such as fingerprints or iris patterns, security and law enforcement services can now quickly identify people with a high degree of accuracy, even from several hundred meters away.

Biometric identifiers are the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals. Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological versus behavioral characteristics. Physiological characteristics are related to the shape of the body. Examples include, but are not limited to fingerprint, palm veins, face recognition, DNA, palm print, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina, and even scent.

Behavioral characteristics are related to the pattern of behavior of a person, including but not limited to typing rhythm, gait, and voice. Some researchers have now coined the term “behaviometrics” to describe the latter class of biometrics.

More traditional means of access control include token-based identification systems (such as a driver's license or passport) and knowledge-based identification systems (such as a password or personal identification number). Since biometric identifiers are unique to individuals, they are more reliable in verifying identity than token and knowledge-based methods. However, the collection of biometric identifiers raises privacy concerns about the ultimate use of this information.

Before iris technology could be deployed, certain legal steps would need to be taken. Under EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights, authorities would need to demonstrate it was a necessary and proportionate solution to a legitimate, specific problem.

They would also need to prove iris recognition was the least intrusive way to achieve that goal. A proportionality test would have to take into account the risks the technology brings along with the benefits.

The very fact that long-range iris scanners can now capture data without the collaboration of their subject also creates legal issues. Many countries’ laws require individuals to be informed when such information is being collected, by whom, for what purposes, and the existence of their rights surrounding the data.

Another issue is how the data is kept safe and secure, particularly in the case of iris-scanning by objects such as smart phones. Scans stored on a device – or in the cloud for purposes of future authentication – would legally require robust security protection. Data stored in the cloud tends to move around between different servers and countries, which makes preventing unauthorized access even more difficult.

When will this technology be used by employers as part of their safety program or to monitor conformance of employees? My guess is that it is already in use. One can only hope all employees are aware of it and have they been informed of their rights.

Biometric technology has made snooping into our habits at home and at work ever easier.

It would seem sensible now to debate both how far businesses and government entities are allowed to go and how to protect ourselves while we still have privacy to protect.


Pomfret BillDr. Bill Pomfret is a best-selling author, speaker, and dynamic presenter who has traveled the world educating and motivating management and employees to adopt effective health, safety, and risk control policies; practices and procedures that prevent or mitigate human, economic, and environmental losses from adverse occupational exposures. He has developed and implemented many Occupational Health Safety and Environmental models and was professor who taught many systems, practices, and procedures at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Pomfret designed and developed the International, 5 Star Health and Safety Management System™ in 1975. He has audited in more than 40 countries and trained more than 2,000 certified accredited auditors. Pomfret is a long-term Fellow of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (UK), a certified seminar leader, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Health (UK), in addition to being certified in Canada, US, India, and South Africa and is a registered health and safety professional in his native Britain. Pomfret can be reached at his website at www.spi5star.com.