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Biometric System
  1. In the two cases the task for the biometric system is different, and its effectiveness will also vary. When a biometric system is to ensure that only certain employees enter the bank vault, the task for the system is relatively easy; therefore, it will be efficient. However, when used to identify terrorists in a crowd, such a system might not be very useful. In the case with the bank vault, the system has to check whether a particular biometric belongs to the person it claims to belong to. In this case, establishing the biometric reference database is easy, as it is unambiguously known that a particular biometric belongs to the correct person. Getting references from employees is also not difficult; for example, images for facial recognition can be taken when a person is hired. As the biometric system in this case will have to consult a reliable database with good quality references belonging to a limited number of people, it will successfully fulfill its task. On the contrary, establishing a system that would identify terrorists in a crowd includes many problems. Firstly, the task for the system is more complicated: it should find out whether a particular biometric belongs to anyone in a large number of people; this difficulty increases the complexity of identification. Secondly, establishing a database in this case is also more difficult as there exists a possibility that some people might be wrongly included in the database. Finally, getting good quality biometric references from terrorists is a complicated task because these people are not likely to let good pictures of them be made. The available photographs of terrorists are usually grainy, taken long ago, or made from a significant distance. In case when a biometric system is to scan the crowd for terrorists, it has to scan a huge number of people, consult a not necessarily reliable database which usually contains references of poor quality; as a result, such a system will not be effective when fulfilling its task.
  2. The biometric system used for scanning crowds for terrorists will produce a significant number of false alarms because the number of terrorists in comparison to the number of non-terrorists is very small. According to Bruce Schneier, even if the accuracy of the system’s work is 99.99 percent, it will still not work precisely enough to identify terrorists without producing a significant number of false alarms. If, supposedly, there is one terrorist per ten million of peaceful people, the system will produce a thousand false alarms for every correctly identified terrorist. Thus, it will not work efficiently. Every false alarm will cause huge inconveniences for the wrongly identified person; it will also lead to distrust of the system’s results. A biometric system will produce some accurate results and identify terrorists; however, as compared to the cost of installing and running and the possible inconveniences caused by it, the system will generally be inefficient.
  3. The database of biometric references is a necessary part of any biometric system. It plays a vital role, but there are some issues regarding databases in such systems. Firstly, there are concerns regarding the physical security of such databases; as they contain a large amount of valuable data, they will inevitably become a target for theft. Therefore, strict security measures should be taken to protect these databases. Secondly, there are concerns regarding the databases themselves. These should include up-to-date information and be updated whenever there are some changes of the data it should include. The broader the functions of this database the more updating it will require; as a result, the need for general social surveillance will increase. Finally, a person should trust the system, but this is not easy to achieve. If a particular reference is captured by an operator with a scanner, there is no guarantee that the operator will not use this reference for some aim; a person can not know how the scanned reference will be used. Vendors and operators can apply some security measures to prevent fraudulent use of biometric references, but a person usually can not check whether it is really so. A person should be able to verify such claims, exit the database if they want to, and have their biometric data erased from the system.


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