Biometrics is a technology that has human characteristics. It can recognise individuals and harvest essential information about the overall human physiology. Some of the most commonly used biometric identifiers are capable of facial recognition, fingerprints, and heat signatures.
Businesses and government units have started using biometrics for a wide range of purposes. There’s also a wider opportunity for the use of data gathered by the biometric identifiers in the future. Most of these technologies are unique to each individual and can also be used in combination in order to achieve better accuracy.
Over the last few weeks, some airports have already utilised biometric testing on arriving passengers to identify if they are positive with the coronavirus. Also known as COVID-19, the virus started in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province. The virus spreads very rapidly and has already killed thousands around the world.
In response to the outbreak, thermal cameras have been installed at the airports to check arriving passengers. These cameras are capable of scanning a huge crowd of people and detect who among these has a higher temperature, which is an indication that the person might be infected.
Some airports in Singapore and China had already been using thermal cameras years ago, during the 2003 SARS Outbreak. Countries like Nigeria and India also followed suit during the Ebola and Swine Flu outbreak.
But it’s important to note that thermal cameras are only useful in identifying who has high temperature or who has developed a fever which is a common symptom of the coronavirus. Studies show that the thermal scanning that was conducted at the airports was able to detect no less than 20% of infected passengers.
As a matter of fact, even the World Health Organisation doesn’t recommend testing every traveller since it provides little benefit but requires a considerable amount of resources. Biometrics such as fingerprint scanning and facial recognition are some of the most effective biometric identifiers.
With regards to biometric data, we believe that everyone should campaign for greater access to this data.
Meanwhile, thermal imaging technology has already been used widely by militaries and law enforcement agencies around the world. It was actually first used in the 1950s during the Korean War, which helped identify enemies in the dark. In the US, firefighters have also used such technologies to locate people during a rescue operations in the middle of dense smoke. Last year, US police forces used the technology in detecting and nabbing a gang of thieves in the middle of the night.
The use of biometrics by businesses, governments, and law enforcers is important. However, we cannot deny the fact that entrusting our data to the government would give them a chance to misuse them. But of course, privacy advocates don’t challenge the use of scanners to detect anyone who is positive of the virus. Is it reasonable enough to charge someone of disorderly conduct for deliberately covering his face when passing through facial recognition technology?
Here at Investigators Australia, we are fully aware of the fact that having more data will make it easier to solve certain problems. We sometimes refer to public record databases to uncover details about a particular person we are investigating. Thankfully, we have access to the ASIC database, which contains government-stored data. This is very useful for when we need to conduct an investigation. We also rely on databases owned by private companies, such as Equifax. This is what we use when looking for important information, such as addresses of certain individuals.
We truly believe that private citizens should be given access to government-owned data, whether it is to protect their financial interests by going after a debtor, identify if a potential employee is high risk, to learn about the deceptive behaviour of a partner, and more.
Today, governments are actually using biometric data as a way to lobby financial aid and ask for donations from big corporations. As for metadata, keeping biometric data by some powerful organisations and the government is something that’s truly useful in certain situations, although citizens should fully understand how to precisely use the data. They must also be given access to government-stored data that they can use for legal purposes.
For instance, the outbreak of coronavirus is a perfect opportunity for the government to explain how the biometric scanning will be implemented and how it has helped to curb the spread of the virus. They should also reveal whether it has worked and what type of data is being collected during the process.
The government should provide registers that are accessible to the public, that’s capable of anonymously storing information. That way, it will not reveal any information about certain individuals. This is to set guidelines for a more aggressive form of data collection that’s being done now.
This is also applicable when capturing a certain type of data. ASIC has recently started allowing media personnel to have free access to its databases, which we believe is heading in the right direction. However, this should actually be freely available to everyone, especially companies that are proprietary limited and licensed investigators like us. This can ensure greater transparency in the country and will encourage more overseas investors to invest their money in Australian-based companies.
Data of any kind must be obtained and kept in a transparent way while also considering any possible risks to the person involved. In a way, the data belongs to the person and they should know where and how the data is being used.
The comprehensive use of technologies for surveillance and biometric has questionably resulted in the government upturning the principles behind the presumption of innocence. It seems that the battle might have been lost in respect to metadata, where citizens won’t be able to have access to the compulsorily acquired metadata from ISP to be used for civil cases. Yet, the fact that the government has the freedom to use the data against its citizens is deemed as a threat.