Ask the fans of any good spy movie, all it takes to crack the highest security locks in the world would be the right set of fingerprints, a scannable iris and a face that will fool the computer. And so, it would seem, is the opinion of several states in the US, including Illinois, Texas and Washington.
In these states, it’s illegal to collect any sort of biometric data, which would include “face geometry,” something many unsuspecting social media users discovered when trying to take advantage of a Google app that showed them the piece of art that most resembled their own faces. The Illinois law has been in place since 2008 and has been used to challenge several tools and toys by Google, Facebook, Snap and similar tech entities.
The Debate Over Biometrics
When it came to the art doppelganger app, Google preemptively protected itself in those aforementioned states with strict biometrics laws.
Instead of being able to take a photo and having the system choose a piece of artwork, users were instead given learning materials on art, including articles and interactive programming. It was a huge disappointment for users who watched with jealousy as their online friends were painted into history.
But this is just a small note in the greater debate over biometrics and mobile security. Tech firms continue to argue that these tight biometric laws are making it difficult to develop new technology that they need to take advantage of things like fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition, either for the public or for private use.
Is Privacy Really at Risk?
Digital privacy groups like The Electronic Frontier Foundation feel that biometrics are the ultimate in snatchable data. Their staff attorney, Adam Schwartz, spoke to the Wall Street Journal on the subject, stressing the widespread damage that biometrics could do in a worst-case scenario.
“Biometrics are a menace to privacy,” Schwartz said. “It’s very easy for strangers to capture your biometrics and it’s very hard for us to do anything about it.”
It may be useful to note that China widely uses facial recognition to help track citizens with few issues. Certainly, it’s true that biometrics can’t be replaced as easily as credit cards, though some might point out that filching a credit card number is in no way comparable to snatching a useable iris scan.