Saturday, December 1, 2012

Privacy, Accuracy and Data Security are Top Concerns with Biometric Technology

In 1996, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida installed fingerprint scanners to keep track of their season pass holders. This was put into place to combat fraud and to keep malevolent people from entering the theme park. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many organizations followed suit and are now using various biometric devices to ensure the public’s safety and the nation’s security. Biometric devices use an individual’s physical and behavioral characteristics to prove their identity. To date,  biometric technology can determine a person’s identity based on their iris, fingerprint, palm, hand geometry, signature, face, voice, and gait.

Biometric Data Can be Reconstructed from Biometric Templates

The companies that make biometric technologies have expressed that the devices will insure optimum protection because of its low cost, high accuracy, and its ability to keep people from masquerading as others. What they often fail to mention is how people’s biometric data will be stored within the database system. When people are enrolled into a biometric surveillance system, a biometric template is stored of them. This template is a digital representation of the person’s distinct characteristics, representing the information that was extracted from the biometric sample. Which means, for example, the scan of the individual's fingerprint is not stored, but instead specific data points called minutiae are captured from the picture and saved.

The way biometric templates are stored can vary between models and vendors. In general, the person’s data is stored as specific points and a mathematical algorithm is used to confirm or deny a person’s access. The primary concerns that arise from the storage of these templates are:

  • can they be accessed by hackers?
  • If so, will they be able to identify each individual associated with each template, and
  • will they be able to reconstruct the original data?

It has been proven by many researchers that an individual’s raw biometric data (i.e. the original scan of their face, fingerprint, etc.) can be reconstructed from the template. Criminals can use the reconstructed templates to gain access to restricted areas and data. This makes biometric technology risky because a password can always be replaced but making a new biometric template is only limited to the number of fingers, eyes, hands, etc., a person has.

Distance, Lighting and Motion Blur are Problems Video-Based Face Recognition

Of all the various biometric devices available, the fingerprint scanner remains number one. This is largely because of its accuracy and ease of use. Recently, there has been a substantial increase in the use of video-based face recognition. To combat crime and terrorists attacks many law enforcement agencies are coupling their use of fingerprinting scanners with face recognition software. While face recognition based on still images has a high rate of accuracy, there are still tremendous problems with video-based face recognition. Rama Chellappa, Chairman of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Maryland-College Park, says that identifying a person based on video at distances greater than 50 feet can be difficult. He continues to explain that motion blur, lighting, and unconstrained subjects can cause major problems with identifying people through video. Below Dr. Chellappa discusses more reasons why this type of technology is not ready for extensive use:

Function Creep is Primary Concern with Biometric Devices

Overall, the biggest issue that is associated with biometric technology is that of privacy. Although many people are open to the idea of having technology secure them, there are many who are wary of how the information collected can be used for other instances. Formally defined as the gradual widening of the use of technology or a system beyond the purpose for which it was originally intended, function creep is the broader underlying issue when it comes to biometric technology. Those opposed to the use of biometric devices will cite the Social Security Number (SSN) as the biggest example of function creep. At first the SSN was used for tax purposes, but it has transformed to a basis for identification for everyone within the United States. Religion, people's cultural and personal beliefs are other concerns that are prominent within this topic.

As mentioned before, biometrics can decrease fraud, lower costs, and provide better accuracy than humans, but there are still many dangers that are associated with it. Though the issues with video-based face recognition, biometric templates being duplicated, and privacy issues have yet to be resolved, there are major biometric programs that are currently in place and many others that will be implemented in the upcoming months. The FBI's billion dollar Next Generation Identification program will be the biggest. This program will depend heavily on video cameras to track and capture criminals, but will be able to also track non-wanted individuals.

Sources: Biometrics by John WoodwardEpic.orgInformation Week and FBI

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thoughts On Biometric Surveillance

A student's opinion on biometric surveillance:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Biometric Surveillance: Where Privacy and Security Intersect


Function Creep is a Primary Concern With Biometric Surveillance

Video Face Recognition at a Distance is Still a Major Issue

The Most Commonly Used Biometric Device is the Fingerprint Scanner

The Major Pitfalls of Each Biometric System


Biometrics, the method of authentication based on physical or behavioral characteristics of an individual, have been in use for thousands of years. It wasn't until Alphonse Bertillon developed anthropometrics, the process of taking physical measurements of the human body to identify a person, where the concept of biometrics became popular. After anthropometric identification, the ease of use and accuracy of fingerprinting soon became the norm. First used with law enforcement, the first commercial application of fingerprinting did not happen until 1972. Since that time, biometric technology has transformed to include authentication practices based on the iris, face, voice and gait.

In the present time, biometric technology is now heavily used by both private and public institutions. As a direct response to September 11, 2001, public safety and security of the nation has been put before people’s concerns with privacy. The companies who make these biometric technologies have expressed that biometrics are the way to go since because of its low cost, high accuracy, and decrease in the likelihood of a person pretending to be someone else. Also, these companies make sure it is known that any biometric data that is collected from a user cannot be replicated by anyone else if there is a breach in the system. The reason for this is that the systems do not store the full fingerprint, face, etc., but instead it stores specific key points on the face, fingerprint, etc., that helps it differentiate between individuals.

Biometrics is not only used to combat terrorists but everyday crimes too. Known as biometric surveillance, many of these systems use face recognition in order to catch criminals or to keep track of ex-convicts. They are also in place to prevent criminal acts from happening. Places that currently use or have used these systems are the Disney theme parks, the SuperBowl, social services departments within each state to combat assistance fraud, and the FBI. In the past, the FBI has only used Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), but now has plans to implement a billion dollar face recognition system which will track all Americans.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Kenya's Luxury Housing Market Grows 25 Percent

Africa, the continent most Westerner’s refer to as a country, houses many of the world’s most needed resources. It is also known for housing some of the world’s highest rates for diseases, government instability, and poverty. Kenya, which is located within the vast continent, has witnessed many of these disparities on its land, but there is much change happening within the country, particularly within its capital Nairobi. According to housing analysts, Nairobi is the best prime residential market in the world. This is based on the fact that the values in the city grew up to 25 percent, which outpaced major cities such as Miami and London.

Housing Market Growth is Due to Kenyan and Kenyan-linked Investors

Houses for Sale in Kenya
The housing market growth in Nairobi is largely due to Kenyan and Kenyan-linked investors fueling money into the market. Many outside investors are hesitant to invest in Kenya’s housing market because of the history of the country. Recently, there has been an instance of “Somali pirates” kidnapping tourists from the neighboring border of Kenya, which has made people very weary of purchasing houses in Kenya. Another major reason for why investors are uncertain to buy in Nairobi is because they view many if not all African countries as lawless places. Investors would hate to buy a house and return to find that they no longer own it due to some mishap or scam.

Biased News Can Cause Opinions to Be Spread as Facts

One element that is essentially instrumental to Kenya’s success of appealing to international clients is that of favorable international press. This is critical because if news agencies report overwhelming negative aspects about Kenya then there may not be a large growth in the housing market. This especially applies to news organizations that serve a widespread audience that crosses state lines and even country boarders. A couple of news organizations that fall under this category are CNN and Al Jazeera. These two organizations have a strong following of people, with many of the readers not questioning the content that is delivered. Some people are knowledgeable to seek more information on what is presented, but many will not which can cause opinions to be further spread as facts.

Al Jazeera Gives Viewers Questionable Details about Nairobi’s Housing Boom

Reviewing the two news stories about the housing boom in Kenyan, there are stark differences between how CNN covers the story versus Al Jazeera. In the case of CNN, they provided clear and concise evidence of what was happening with the housing market. This ranged from who were the key players, which are the Kenyans abroad, how fast the growth has been for the market, and the potential security reasons for why Nairobi’s market may not continue to grow without international investors. Al Jazeera’s angle of the story takes a much more biased and maybe considered unethical journalism. The reporter gives some details about the housing boom, but the story soon takes a major turn. The reporter starts to speculate that the housing boom may be due to Somali piracy. He has no evidence to back his statements as he continues to use words like “may” and “could be” which are considered words of uncertainty. He does not provide a basis for his claims.

CNN Provides Concrete Descriptions on Kenya’s Housing Boom

From the above information, CNN’s article is deemed the more reliable on this topic. As mentioned before, they were able to provide concrete information from reputable sources on the topic. They were not one sided with the presentation of the information by letting readers know that there are some possible caveats involved in owning a home in the particular area. They also provided information that the surrounding areas of Nairobi are also experiencing an upward trend in those housing markets too. With Al Jazeera, the focus is solely on the possibility of the uptick in the market due to Somali piracy.

Neither News Source Provides Information on How the Housing Boom Affects Locals

One surprising piece of information that was left out of both news stories was the lack of facts regarding how this new housing boom would affect the local community. As in the CNN article, the author states that the town which the new houses are being built has not changed substantially in the past 500 years. More knowledge should be reported on how this new boom is effecting the economy of Kenya, and if native Kenyans or people native to the are able to work the construction jobs that are being created.

Sources: Al Jazeera and CNN

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Participation Gap Redefined

Following on the heels of the classic story of the haves versus the have nots, the digital divide becomes yet another example of the growing disparities in our society. Many organizations, both privately and publicly owned, have worked towards alleviating the problem of the digital divide. They do this by providing those without access to new emerging technologies with a chance to get acquainted with 21st century technology. While some researchers are now focusing on the disadvantages to the people who do not have unlimited access to the internet and new gadgets, there is an emerging trend of people restricting their own access to these digital technologies due to privacy concerns. With people not able to access to new technology to its full potential and people limiting their access to it, there will be a drastic increase in what is known as the participation gap.

Over 50 Percent of App Users Decide Not to Download an App Due to Privacy Concerns

Source: PewResearchCenter
In Kevin Guidry’s short essay entitled “Digital Divide or Participation Gap? Will Mobile Affect it?,” which includes information about the participation gap, his definition of the term focuses solely on the aspect of those who will not have equal access to technology. He then briefly mentions how “tribal” colleges have a culture of not having access to the various technologies, and if they do, they limit how it is use. What he may not know is that this is slowly becoming a trend across America. The Pew Research Center released a study on September 5, 2012 that demonstrated that people are becoming leery of technology because of privacy concerns. In the study “Privacy and Data Management on Mobile Devices,” they found that 57 percent of all app users uninstalled an app or decided not to install an app due to the data the app would collect. This is very important for the digital community to know since many of the technologies that we use today are largely based on apps.

Source: PewResearchCenter
Younger Age Groups are More Aware of Location Tracking Feature on Phone

Continuing with privacy concerns, many people are turning off the tracking location feature on their phones. What is interesting about this is that this varies greatly between age groups. Younger age groups do this more often than older ones. One explanation for this is that the younger age groups are simply more aware of this feature. This could greatly contribute to the participation gap because the old can no longer teach the young about nuisances that come along with technology, so no matter how many computers people have it will essentially be self-taught.   
Growing Participation Gap Due to Privacy Concerns

In terms of mobile audiences, we could see a shift in people truly embracing new technology and learning the ends and out of it to people who will only use new gadgets to perform basic tasks. Since this generation is more aware of privacy concerns, we can see a drastic increase in this group limiting their access to new gadgets. As I stated before, this will increase the participation gap since as this generation becomes older and less involved in technology, there will not be many people who are able to pass down knowledge.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Twitter Personality vs Reality: Chris Bosh

Christopher Bosh, the power forward and possibly the future center for the Miami Heat, is one of NBA's biggest stars (ESPN). With the invention of Twitter many athletes, including Bosh, have taken to Twitter to give people more insight into their lives beyond the news and interviews they appear on. Having Twitter as their outlet can be very beneficial to them since they can quickly address any misunderstandings that arise from news reports and interviews. While perusing Bosh's Twitter, I noticed that there is a strong disconnect between what he tweets and the type of news stories that are covered about him.

Immediately after reading many of Chris Bosh’s tweets, I noticed that he did not talk much about his job as a basketball player. Although the season is over, there have been numerous stories produced about him especially focusing on the unconfirmed switch from him playing power forward to occupying the center position in the upcoming season. Bosh’s tweets during the season tell the same story of nonexistent tweets that refer to his job as a basketball player, even during the time he strained an abdominal muscle and was unable to play in some games (The Huffington Post). However, Bosh did take the time to type one tweet in regard to his team winning the NBA championship, and he managed to retweet a few of his teammates who took pictures of him while at practice.

Tweets during the time of his injury.

Besides his professional basketball life, Bosh tweets little about his personal life. He has posted a few pictures of his son and mentions his family in passing, but he doesn't provide more insight into his family life. In the news, there have been several scathing reports in relation to his involvement in a child support dispute. Although the woman who is contesting the child support is providing this unfavorable information, Bosh did not use Twitter to address her statements (AOL). Instead, he uses Twitter to posts many pictures of himself on vacation or of him making several appearances on the sets of television shows or other events. This was peculiar since his family accompanies him on many of his vacations, and his wife tweets photos of the entire family while on vacation with him.
Bosh's twitpics versus his wife's.

As the self-proclaimed coolest dude alive – this is according to his Twitter – he doesn't communicate regularly with his fans. With over 800,000 followers his mentions may be too much for him to handle, but that’s not a good explanation if a celebrity like Lady Gaga can find time to interact with her followers. Despite the fact that he does not engage actively with his fans, he does regularly mention LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in his tweets. This was virtually the only similarity between his tweets and the stories news organizations posted about him. Many of the news stories treated James, Wade, and Bosh as a unit. While researching, there were several instances were writers casually inserted Bosh’s name in non-sport related articles about James and Wade, simply because he is their teammate.