Archive for January, 2012

Biometrics – an invasion of privacy?

Biometrics is the science of identifying a person by their unique biological characteristics – their DNA for example, or their fingerprints. There’s currently an enormous range of technologies designed for this (and more currently in development), but they remain comparatively underused. Why is this?

The question that is invariably asked is that of safety. Who’s collecting my data, and why? Could it be used against me? Is it safe? Newspapers publish sensationalist anti-biometric articles, but the public are surprisingly unconcerned. A 2006 survey of the British public showed that by and large we trust the technology. 83% of respondents claimed they felt “comfortable” or “extremely comfortable” with fingerprint recognition technology.

Counter-intuitively, the aspect of biometrics that people seem most resistant to is its use in crime prevention. DNA evidence has been used in the UK since the late 80’s, but it still draws criticism (despite it’s incredible reliability). The National DNA Database (established over 15 years ago) has faced attacks from all political parties, as well as organisations such as GeneWatch UK and the Human Genetics Commission.

It all seems to stem from a belief in a “right to privacy”. In 2011, the headlines were dominated by the phone hacking scandal – a story revolving entirely around privacy issues. 2011 was also the year Clare’s Law was proposed, a law that would allow the police to inform a person if their partner has a history of violent offences. This faced significant opposition, due to the fact that it would violate that sacred “right to privacy”.

I don’t believe that anyone has a right to privacy. It doesn’t make sense. Why do you need it? A violation of someone’s privacy doesn’t *necessarily* harm them in any way. I think it’d be better to say that people have a right not to be humiliated. I mean, who really cares if the government has your DNA? What kind of juicy information are you expecting them to extract from it?

My personal opinion is that everyone should be on the National DNA Database from birth. Controversial I know, but think of the benefits! Any criminal that leaves DNA could be caught before they reoffended. There would be vast rewards for medical science as well – genetic risk factors for diseases could be identified, and people could apply the appropriate steps to reduce their risks.