Retina Scans? Yes Please! Just Not for Passwords or PINs

Despite acceptance for higher-stakes applications, respondents to the survey were a bit more reserved about the technology when it came to everyday applications, such as PIN replacement
Despite acceptance for higher-stakes applications, respondents to the survey were a bit more reserved about the technology when it came to everyday applications, such as PIN replacement

A new survey from Steria examining attitudes toward retina scans, facial recognition and the like found that the majority of citizens (81%) support the use of biometrics for criminal identification. However, only 45% are in favor of their use when it comes to the more pedestrian security purposes: replacing PIN numbers for bank cards, for instance. 

When asked about the applications of biometrics, the French were most enthusiastic about adopting this technology to identify criminals, with 89% supporting the use of biometrics for that purpose. That’s compared to 80% in Britain and 77% in Germany. In addition, almost three quarters (69%) of respondents across Europe agreed that they would support the use of biometrics in identity cards or passports, with 81% of French citizens in favor of this application, compared to 73% of Danish and 68% of British respondents.

The same percentage of respondents across Europe (69%) were also in favor of using biometrics to enter secure areas (cue any modern action flick for an example), lead once again by the French at 77%, followed by the Danes at 75% and the British at 69%.

Biometrics are slowly rolling out across the region for higher-level security purposes. For example, the Danish police are working on an eight-year biometrics fingerprint identification program and, alongside the European Commission, recently announced the deployment of a state-of-the-art second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), which uses biometrics data to help streamline border control processes and transform the way Schengen States share information.

“Biometric technology is increasingly used to support a diverse range of tasks”, said Ole Marius Steinkjer, business developer at Steria’s Centre of Excellence for Biometrics, in a statement. “Within the security market, it is typically used to process asylum applications and to provide smooth flow of cross-border traffic, or to identify criminal identities and control access to military facilities. Other markets are also adopting it where it is used, to protect health records and even bank accounts.”

Citizens were a bit more divided in their opinions around the benefits of biometrics when it comes to ID and passport applications. Around half of respondents (54%) said security against identify theft is the most important reason for using biometric ID or passports, while 12% think reducing crime was more important. Only 4% feel that simplifying administrative procedures is the most important application for biometrics technology.

But despite acceptance for higher-stakes applications, respondents to the survey were a bit more “meh” about the technology when it came to everyday applications. Take the lack of enthusiasm for PIN replacement: only 41% of Germans were keen to use biometrics for this purpose, compared to 43% of Norwegians and 44% of Swedish citizens. The French are interestingly above the European average with 52% in favor.

This is likely due to concerns about the use of biometrics for tracking purposes or the potential for privacy violations. But, “despite these concerns, it is becoming increasingly common for organizations to use biometrics for effective identification and authentication”, Steinkjer said. Examples include airlines, gyms and self-service convenience stores aiming to increase their efficiency, or pharmacies using it to secure their medicine stocks.

He added, “It is absolutely vital that organizations fully understand the consumer benefits and position them correctly to encourage mainstream adoption of biometrics applications.”

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