Biometrics: solving data protection challenges
27 January 2023

Biometrics: solving data protection challenges

27 January 2023

Data from Experian shows that 81% of customers view biometrics as the more secure form of identity verification compared to passwords. So why, then, have some businesses been reluctant to implement passwordless logins?

Over the course of this article, we will highlight some of the privacy risks associated with biometric data, and look at how companies can use privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to make it safer to store biometric data while complying with cross-jurisdictional data protection laws.

What is data privacy?

In short, data privacy refers to the protection and control individuals have over their personal information, ensuring that it is collected, stored, processed, and shared in a secure and confidential manner. It involves the right to determine what information is collected, how it is used, and who has access to it.

In the digital age, data privacy, and the laws surrounding it, couldn’t be of more importance. This is because vast amounts of personal information are generated, collected, and analysed by various entities, from huge social media platforms to governments, to small businesses. This information can include sensitive details like names, addresses, financial data, health records, and online activities.

What are the key elements of data privacy?

The concept of data privacy encompasses several key principles:

  • Consent 

Individuals should have the right to give informed consent before their data is collected and used.

  • Purpose Limitation

Data should only be collected for specific purposes and not used for other unrelated activities without the individual's consent.

  • Data Minimisation

Only necessary data should be collected, limiting the collection of excessive or irrelevant information.

  • Accuracy

Organisations should make reasonable efforts to ensure that collected data is accurate, up-to-date, and relevant for the intended purpose.

  • Security

Appropriate measures must be implemented to protect data from unauthorised access, loss, or damage.

  • Transparency

Individuals have the right to know how their data is collected, used, and shared by organisations.

  • Access and Control

Individuals should have the ability to access their personal data, request corrections or deletions, and have control over its use and disclosure.

Data privacy regulations, such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), aim to safeguard individuals' data privacy rights by imposing obligations on organisations handling personal information. These regulations provide individuals with greater control over their data and require organisations to adopt privacy-by-design practices and enhanced data protection measures.

For businesses, ensuring data privacy is essential for building trust, protecting individuals from data breaches and identity theft, and maintaining the ethical and responsible use of personal information in this ever-accelerating digital era.

Why is data privacy important?

Data privacy is crucial for internet users due to various risks they face online. 

  • Personal security is at stake as cybercriminals can exploit personal information for identity theft and fraud. 

  • Data breaches expose sensitive information, leading to potential harm and compromised accounts. 

  • Lack of privacy allows profiling and targeted advertising, compromising individual autonomy. 

  • Personal data monetisation and sale without consent can result in exploitation and privacy infringement. 

  • Government surveillance without limits infringes upon privacy rights and civil liberties. 

  • Mishandled data can cause reputational damage, leading to embarrassment and discrimination. 

  • The constant surveillance and intrusion affect individuals' mental well-being. 

For businesses, data privacy also plays an essential role.

  • It helps establish and maintain trust with customers. When businesses prioritise data privacy, customers feel more confident in sharing their personal information, leading to stronger relationships and increased loyalty.

  • Compliance with data privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA is crucial to avoid legal penalties and reputational damage. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines and loss of customer trust.

  • Protecting data privacy safeguards businesses and organisations against data breaches, which can lead to financial losses, legal liabilities, and damage to their brand reputation.

  • Ethical data practices and respect for privacy are becoming increasingly important to consumers who are seeking transparency and responsible data handling. Prioritising data privacy can be a competitive advantage, attracting privacy-conscious customers, and differentiating the business from its competitors.

Data privacy measures, such as data minimisation and security protocols, contribute to overall data governance and risk management, ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive business information.

Biometrics and data protection

As biometric technologies become increasingly commonplace in online authentication and identity management, it's important that businesses properly evaluate solutions to ensure that personally identifiable information is protected against mounting privacy and security threats.

What are the privacy risks of storing biometric data?

Data breaches are a very real threat and have the capacity to affect millions of users. 

While much of the focus on data breaches tends to be on “written down” customer information (passwords, email addresses, telephone numbers, etc.), skilled hackers also target biometric data as well.

Biometric data such as fingerprints are immutable and cannot be altered. As such, biometric data theft is far more dangerous than a standard password leak, as it could have wide ramifications for the person who has been hacked. Biometric data theft can pose a legitimate security concern, as a well-equipped and highly funded group of hackers could create a 3D-printed fingerprint mould to unlock any device or account that is linked to the hacked user. 

Due to the sensitive nature of biometrics, there are a number of policies around the world that govern how biometric data is collected, stored, and used.

What are the regional differences in biometric legislation?

As we outlined in our article on data protection outside of the EU, the European Union leads the way when it comes to data protection regulation, and biometric data is no exception.

Defined by EU data privacy law as “special categories of personal data”, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) establishes that it is forbidden for any company to share the biometric data of EU citizens and long-term residents with third parties without their consent. 

Legislation for the protection of biometric data also exists outside of the EU, with India and China, in particular, having strong guidelines on what can and can’t be done with biometric data.

In the United States, meanwhile, there is no single unified law that regulates biometric data (or any type of personal data for that matter), with individual states deciding on their own policies. However, the state of Illinois does have the Biometric Information Privacy Act, which is the most expansive policy in the country.

How can PETs help?

In light of the current security challenges facing every online business, organisations are beginning to adopt an approach known as data protection by design to help keep customer data safe. This approach has seen businesses implement one of five emerging PETs to ensure that any personal data processed has been safeguarded to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

The Five PETs

As highlighted above, there are five emerging PETs that are vital for safely using personal data online. Large organizations that handle sensitive customer data, such as banks, use PETs to ensure that their customers' data remain safe.

The five PETs are as follows:

  • Homomorphic Encryption - Refers to the ability to run computational operations on encrypted data

  • Trusted Execution Environments - This PET refers to an isolated computing environment that is separate from a computer's main processor and memory.

  • Differential Privacy - Often used in combination with another PET, Differential Privacy is a process that quantifies the privacy leakage that occurs when accessing a database.

  • Federated Learning -   This PET is a machine learning technology that processes data locally and then sends back the requested results to a central server.

  • Multi-Party Computation - This PET refers to an encryption method that allows multiple parties to collaborate on encrypted data. Keyless uses multi-party computation to process authentication requests without revealing data during the computational process.

By using secure multi-party computation, Keyless removes the need to store or process biometric data. This greatly enhances the security of Keyless, making it a no-brainer when it comes to safeguarding the identity of your customers.

Our unique biometric authentication enables organizations to safely implement Keyless into their business without breaching regulations and exposing themselves to compliance risk. So, what are you waiting for? Give your customers the joy of a smooth, frictionless, passwordless login with biometrics that simply works.

Request a demonstration to learn more. 

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