The Coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the way the world works and lives, and many organisations are already receiving the benefits of biometrics technology
As the current COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe and dramatically alters society, governments and corporations are turning to novel uses of biometric technologies to limit contagion and maintain economic opportunities. Technologies that may have once seemed like the product of science fiction—such as thermal facial recognition, remote fever detection, or smartphone-based immunity certificates—are now not only possible but also already in use. This raises important questions about the potential privacy implications of the widespread collection and use of such personal data.
This is particularly necessary to note when taking into consideration personal data stored and distributed amongst emergency and police forces. Typically, if it creates a safer and smarter city, the public does not oppose the use of personal data in this way, however when used in urban environments, travel, such as airports, and organisations, this breach of personal data becomes problematic when data is likely to be used, sold and distributed externally.
The Coronavirus pandemic however, has created an alternative reason for biometrics and touch free access control to rise. The use of facial recognition particularly, for security and access concerns has become increasingly popular due to the minimising of the spread of the disease. This use is particularly enhanced when also considering thermal imaging with surveillance and facial recognition. This not only creates a contactless method, but can also analyse potential threats and risks as a core symptom of the Coronavirus is a high temperature, which can be detected by this type of technology.
Recently, companies have been upgrading their attendance management tools to go touchless. Because of how easily Covid-19 is spread through contact on surfaces, this has been a rapidly expanding method of checking in. This is not the first appearance of facial recognition replacing older, more traditional methods of checking in. In fact, in airports, the use of touchless screening is being adapted at checkpoints like baggage drops and gate check-ins. This will most likely become the norm as the world is reopening after the initial outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Facial recognition is not the only technology that might start to be more common, though. Other forms of biometric scanning, like iris recognition, are likely to become more popular as the world is transitioning away from high contact point check-ins. This means that things like fingerprint scanning could become a thing of the past as we step into a more health conscious world.
Although it is the safest way to check guests or users in and out, the widespread use of biometric technology is somewhat controversial because of privacy violations. There are currently a few laws that discourage the frequent use of biometric technology as it breaches private information.
Several other laws have been amended in recent years for a similar end product as biometric technology became more popular. However, that was before the COVID-19 outbreak made business owners across the globe reconsider how many touchpoints their office really had. Experts don’t think that this is the last we will see of the Coronavirus, though. It is widely believed among health officials that another outbreak is not only possible but likely.
In the short term, the expansion of novel multimodal biometric surveillance may be partially excused as a necessary technological compromise to protect health and safety by bolstering our capacity to manage contagion and prevent future pandemics. However, the concession of such sensitive data (and the personal information it may reveal) opens new avenues for misuse and suggests the need for responsive, responsible policymaking at this time.
If governments can put in place valid laws around the handling of data with biometrics then facial recognition technology is sure to become a staple in the regular world, as it negates many security risks that are common with password, keys or identity card security measures.
Even before the pandemic, Mohammed Murad, Vice President of Global Sales and Business Development at Iris ID, a provider of iris recognition solutions, said that much of the market was already clamoring for contactless biometrics and that this will only serve to further increase that demand.
“We feel very strongly that under the circumstances now and previously, in the majority of cases, customers do want something that is non-contact, accurate and frictionless,” Murad said, adding the contactless biometrics are going to play a crucial role in future access control applications.
Similarly, Vince Gaydarzhiev, Founder and CEO of Alcatraz, whose solution leverages a combination to facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) for access control, states that products that require physical touch are going to be phased out by many organisations moving forward and will likely not even be specified for most projects. “The importance of biometrics, especially those that don’t require any (physical) interaction will be key in the future,” he comments.
Although contactless biometrics will likely be the preferred modality for access control and other use cases in the future, other technologies, such as fingerprint, vein pattern recognition and other solutions that rely on physical contact with a reader won’t go completely away.
All biometrics have a role to play, but it depends on the application it’s being used for. For example, if you’re providing access control to a building, moving forward you would likely consider having the least amount of contact with a particular device, so you would lean towards a contactless biometric, which is face and iris.
Many people may still be comfortable using fingerprint technologies on their phones or locks for their home, but currently it is seeing a decline in the enterprise market. Post-Covid, we are most likely going to see a dramatic shift in the negative direction (for fingerprint biometrics) because people are going to be quite hesitant to touch things that other people have touched. Touchless biometrics, such as facial and iris recognition, will likely become much more popular.
Covid-19 has completely revolutionised the world of security and society itself. New challenges have arisen and new technologies are being implemented across industries to help tackle the spread of Coronavirus. Biometrics is just another sector, where types of technology has soared in demand, whereas others have dwindled. It will not be until after the world is rid of the pandemic, where we can attain precisely the role of each type of technology in the sector.
Commentary: Jake Parker, Senior Director of Government Relations, Security Industry Association (SIA)
Some special interest groups are loudly calling for banning virtually any use of this advanced technology important to our customers, regardless of the facts or the consequences. The poll results demonstrate such efforts, at times with begrudging support from political figures, are out of touch with everyday Americans’ belief about the technology. Respondents were asked about current uses of facial recognition in the United States, several for the first time in a national poll. Importantly for the security industry, it showed high levels of support (around 7 in 10 US adults) for non-controversial uses of the technology in building systems for access control and security. Their views should matter in policymaking that could impact the benefits the software provides. In August, SIA released its Principles for the Responsible and Effective Use of Facial Recognition Technology, and continues to support addressing concerns about technology through policies that build and maintain public trust through transparency, accountability and other reasonable safeguards.
Commentary: Maria Pihlström, Global Marketing Manager, Fingerprints
Nobody could have predicted the events that have so drastically transformed the way we live and work this year. Amid unprecedented social distancing measures and large-scale home working, we have all had to adapt to a “new normal”.
Undoubtedly, the global pandemic has accelerated the need for more secure and convenient authentication solutions to protect remote network connection and address hygiene concerns. However, amidst growing (cyber)security concerns and a booming IoT market, the demand for improved access control systems has actually been growing for a while.
Now, as biometrics gathers momentum beyond smartphones, the technology is shaping up to play a crucial role in empowering our homes, our workplaces and, ultimately, our lives, with more seamless ways to manage access across a variety of use cases.
Biometric technology has a unique ability to enhance security while safeguarding and, in many cases, improving the user experience. It offers a secure and smooth authentication process that can also be added to existing access control systems to provide an additional, robust layer of authentication.
Commentary: Axelle Coulange, Marketing Director at Master Lock
Overall, we’re observing the same trend across Europe. Consumers are looking for security solutions that will offer peace of mind, ease of access and flexibility of use with reliable technology. At Master Lock, we anticipated that trend a couple of years ago and were one of the first security brands to offer Biometric solutions to our consumers. Added to this, consumers are looking for long-term solutions that will also minimise their exposure to COVID-19. The solution to this is biometric security. Biometric security is increasingly being integrated into our everyday lives. Having started with the use of biometric technology to unlock phones or laptops, this trend has now shifted to other security products.
Master Lock, one of the key players in the security industry, offers a Biometric Padlock and a Biometric Safe to help people access their valuables easily and to share access between users without the faff of keys or combination codes. This shift is particularly relevant during the current climate of COVID-19, as it is also a solution for better hygiene. The Biometric Padlock and Biometric Security Safe are simple to use and can be disinfected once unlocked to avoid the spread of the virus.
In times like these we need to solidify our efforts to change the way we do things and to minimise the risk of spreading the virus. These changes can come in the simplest of solutions, such as the way we access our valuables or storage facilities. With the use of biometrics, it has become very easy to keep your shared padlock or safe germs-free. Simply place your fingerprint on the device to unlock it and then disinfect with an anti-bacterial wipe.
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Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, Security Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922