Poll: Biometrics Gaining Acceptance

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Weighing privacy against security, a new poll shows that Americans are increasingly OK with using biometric technology to safeguard their finances and medical history, as well as to keep felons from buying guns.

A new survey funded by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and conducted by the Privacy & American Business newsletter, shows a high rate of public support for the use of biometric safeguards, such as fingerprinting, retinal and bone-density scans used to electronically identify someone. But that support hinges on basic privacy safeguards -- mandated by the government.

``The survey found that 88% of the public say they are concerned about the possible misuse of their personal information in America today,'' says Alan Westin, president and publisher of Privacy & American Business and the developer of the survey. ``At the general level, the survey shows most Americans to be cautiously positive in their views toward public and private sector use of biometric ID techniques.''

They survey shows that 91% of respondents say it's acceptable to request a biometric scan to check the identity of someone buying a gun against a database of convicted felons. And 85% say biometrics should be used to verify the identity of anyone making credit card purchases. Another 78% say biometrics should be used when withdrawing funds from an ATM, and 77% OK it for anyone accessing sensitive files, such as medical or financial records.

Biometric technology over the past few years has gained acceptance and market share for both physical, personal and network security. Bone-density scans can be used to unlock doors, and fingerprint scans are being built into computer systems to identify users for access to corporate networks. Privacy issues, as well as the financial cost of widespread deployment, have slowed its use in the enterprise.

The P&AB survey, however, shows that users are more comfortable if a basic set of privacy standards are in place.

Nearly 90% of respondents say companies and organizations should make users fully informed about the biometric ID and why it's necessary. And 85% say users should be able to check to see if their biometric ID formula has been correctly applied and they can have any rejection of their identity re-examined and verified.

Another 81% say that, except in situations of national security, people should be made aware whenever their biometric identify is being collected. It should not be collected secretly.

And 58% say an organization should not be permitted to compile records to track when or where people were identified using their biometric ID.

The survey polled more than 1,000 U.S. adults.

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