On Biometrics and Profiling: A Challenge for Privacy and Democracy?

On Biometrics and Profiling: A Challenge for Privacy and Democracy?

Daniele Cantore
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2931-8.ch007
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This paper advances an analysis of biometrics and profiling. Biometrics represents the most effective technology in order to prove someone’s identity. Profiling regards the capability of collecting and organizing individuals’ preferences and attitudes as consumers and costumers. Moreover, biometrics is already used in order to gather and manage biological and behavioral data and this tendency may increase in Ambient Intelligence context. Therefore, dealing with individuals’ data, both biometrics and profiling have to tackle many ethical issues related to privacy on one hand and democracy on the other. After a brief introduction, the author introduces biometrics, exploring its methodology and applications. The following section focuses on profiling both in public and private sector. The last section analyzes those issues concerning privacy and democracy, within also the Ambient Intelligence.
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2. Introducing Biometrics: Methodologies And Application

Biometrics regards the possibility of recognizing someone’s identity from an unambiguous set of biological data, or behaviour. The essential idea is that every human being is unique: no matter how many physiological features or feelings or behaviours all human beings have in common, every person is different one from others just like every snowflake is different from others. Biometrics techniques can be divided and categorized in two different areas: (i) physiological: including DNA, facial-scan, finger-scan, hand-scan, iris-scan, otoacoustic emission, retinal-scan, vascular patterns; (ii) behavioural: including gait, gesture and grip, handwriting, keystroke, lip motion, mouse movements, signature, voice. Obviously, each of those techniques has reached a different level of maturity. Nevertheless, they have all developed for two different ends: (i) to protect information: especially biological data are detected in order to replace old systems based on passwords or PINs for identification purposes; (ii) to perform various kinds of verification: biological data are detected in order to assess someone’s identity, especially in forensic applications for verification purposes.

In order to shed light on biometrics in a more specific way, it is essential to clarify and distinguish the areas in which it operates starting from the difference between identifying someone and verifying someone’s identification: (i) identifying means to establish that a particular person, thing or quality corresponds to a determinate identity; (ii) verifying one’s identity is about assessing the validity and truthfulness of the relationship I just defined. As for biometrics, the different meaning between these two words shows the differences in their applications: (i) the first case refers to those determining criteria used to establish the identity of a certain person; (ii) the second case refers to the necessity of a verification process that allows the adoption of evaluation criteria to approve the legitimacy of an individual’s request, and consequently allow her to access a certain system (Nanavati, Thieme, & Nanavati, 2002).

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