International Biometrics + Identity Association opposes bill that would restrict the use of biometrics to protect against identity fraud

Mar 22, 2011: The Honorable Hollis French Chairman, Judiciary Committee Alaska State Senate State Capitol Room 417 Juneau AK, 99801 Dear Chairman French: The International Biometrics & Identification Association (IBIA) appreciates the opportunity to comment on Senate Bill No. 98, which would require prior written consent for the retention, analysis or distribution of biometric information or require the acceptance of alternate identification based on specific photo identity documents. IBIA opposes this legislation for a number of reasons as detailed below.

Biometric technology protects privacy and should not be seen as a threat to privacy as implied by the legislation. In fact, biometric technology is widely acknowledged as an important tool to prevent impersonations that lead to fraud and identity theft. Mr. Chairman, all technology is inherently privacy neutral. It is the application that determines how the technology is used and whether it protects or harms individual privacy. Legislation that seeks to limit the general use of an important enabling technology based on the potential for harm presents an obstacle to its beneficial use in the vast majority of applications. The use of biometrics in most non-law enforcement applications is to simply answer the question, “Are you who you claim to be?” when a person is requesting an access privilege or benefit. Through such “identity verification” applications, biometric technology protects personal privacy by ensuring that only authorized persons can receive the privileges to which they are entitled and by preventing unauthorized access to information systems and facilities. Biometrics helps to curb identity theft and fraud which are rampant in our society. In the vast majority of applications, biometric technology is not used for surveillance or surreptitious tracking of individuals. The fact that we leave an electronic trail for almost everything that we do today is not a biometric issue.

The scope of the legislation is too broad. No specific applications are being targeted through this legislation. The broad scope of the bill will likely lead to confusion and will result in unintended consequences such as frivolous civil litigation against useful applications that are becoming a common practice. As previously stated, biometric technology is routinely used for a myriad of beneficial identity verification applications. Examples include enhancing computer security by replacing passwords that can be hacked, copied or forgotten; protecting buildings from unauthorized access; securing e-commerce and financial transactions; and preventing cheats from using stand-ins to take professional competency and academic admission examinations. We should be recognizing the convenience, security and privacy-enhancing benefits of biometrics and encouraging its use rather than placing obstacles against its adoption. Biometric technology “binds” an identity record to a person making it virtually impossible for that identity to be impersonated. This is good for our society, particularly as we become more and more dependent on electronic forms of communications and commerce.

The legislation will force the use of less secure methods of identification. The alternate forms of identification included in SB 98 are less secure than biometrics and will not prevent identity theft and fraud. Fake passports and state-issued identities can easily pass for valid credentials to the untrained eye and there is no simple way to verify their authenticity without the use of sophisticated and expensive electronic document analysis equipment. Organizations should be free to choose stronger forms of identity verification, such as biometrics, if the threat consequences justify its use.

The public supports the use of biometrics to protect identity and privacy. Recent public opinion surveys have shown the increasing widespread acceptance of biometrics to protect identity and for its convenience. According to the latest Unisys Security Index report conducted in October 2009, “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. citizens are concerned about identity theft and 58% of Americans would be willing to provide biometric data to protect that identity”. It is important to explain that, in most biometric systems, the original biometric source image is subjected to a complex mathematical process that refines the original data into a format that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reverse engineer back to its original form. As a result, this processed biometric data is inherently privacy enhancing since it does not reveal any personally sensitive information about a person such as sex, age, race, or health condition. IBIA recognizes that the public has a right to protect their personal information - including biometric identifiers. We support the use of industry best practices and established standards to ensure that biometric data is protected. We also believe that informed consent for the collection of biometric data can be appropriate, but only in the context of specific applications - which are not identified in this legislation. In summary, biometric technology is an important tool to protect personal privacy and identity and we urge the Committee not to proceed with this bill. IBIA would be pleased to discuss with you further how biometric technology is being used to achieve your important goal of protecting personal privacy. IBIA is a trade association that promotes using technology effectively and appropriately to determine identity and enhance security, privacy, productivity, and convenience for individuals, organizations, and governments. Its membership is open to all stakeholders, both consumers and providers of technologies and solutions for personal identification.

Please feel free to contact me at or by phone at (727) 938-2704 if I can be of further assistance. Sincerely, Walter G. Hamilton Chairman and President International Biometrics & Identification Association
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