Should We Ban Personal Data Collection from Bio-Recognition Tech?


Biometric data is implicated whenever someone’s identity must be verified.  The question is simple: is it better to verify someone’s identity manually (with a password or by matching them to a photo), or biometrically (with a fingerprint or an iris scan).  Most people do not regularly think about.  But identities are verified every day.  Phones are unlocked using facial recognition or thumbprint, people log in to their favorite websites using passwords or PIN numbers, government services are distributed using identification cards.  All of these are potential places where biometric identification could possibly replace a preexisting form of screening.

This issue is about personal privacy, public safety, innovation, accessibility, and economic growth. It implicates a far-ranging area of new and emerging technologies.  The present benefits of biometric recognition are not fully clear, and the future payoffs are equally uncertain.  Optimists may believe biometrics will solve complex problems like security and accessibility and doomsayers who say it will usher in the arrival of a security state.  As it often does, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

This month debaters across the nation students will debate the resolution: "Resolved: The United States Federal Government should ban the collection of personal data through biometric recognition technology."  Debaters will have to balance the benefits of efficiency and security with the risks of vulnerability and misuse.  

High school debates center on a controversial topic and follow specific rules of debate to ensure a fair and challenging competition. Competitors are required to argue both sides of the topic, both pro and con. Arguments and opinions do not represent the opinion of the debater. This article first goes through the CON side then PRO.

CON Position

by Gwendolyn Berger, ME Senior

The CON side argues that collection of personal data through biometric recognition technology does more good than harm and thus it shouldn't be banned.  Biometric recognition technology analyzes a physical trait to confirm or validate identity.  Facial locks, fingerprints, and iris scans are all examples of such biometric technologies.

There are several different stances CON can take on this.  A few arguments are that biometric technology boosts the economy, improves cybersecurity, and saves lives. 

Biometric technology improves the economy in a few essential ways.  First, it improves credit market efficiency.  A “study found that fingerprinting led to substantially higher repayment rates for a subgroup of borrowers who had been predicted to have the highest default risk.”.  

This is important because it enhances the financial sustainability of microlenders so they can expand into underserved areas thus improving credit access to the poor. (1). 

Moreover, it reduces corruption.  According to the Anti-Corruption Resource Center biometric technology reduces the risk of identity fraud and corruption.

A reduction in corruption can be heavily linked to biometric recognition technology improving cybersecurity.  

A security informed article writes that, “Biometrics is increasingly used as an advanced and safe multi-factor authentication method because physical characteristics can be more difficult to falsify than passwords, PINs, or cards…Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Deep Learning algorithms are used to enhance the performance of biometric identification and authentication, including bias removal and liveness detection in facial recognition.  And these algorithms are rigorously designed, tested, and validated by recognized authorities such as NIST to ensure accuracy and efficiency in real-life situations.”

The impact is that improvements in “cybersecurity can help to prevent data breaches, identity theft, and other types of cybercrime.”

Cybercrime is extremely harmful to businesses and consumers.  Not only is it taxing on individuals and companies, but it can completely tarnish a company’s reputation and steal valuable customer information from databases which can cause a ripple of other negative effects.

Finally, biometric technology can save lives by saving time.  In times of disaster, every second is critical.  A writer on Forbes expert panel writes, “Increased efficiencies during times of crisis are valuable for first responders. Implementing policies and technologies that improve processes by minutes and even seconds might save lives.”  Biometric technology development is essential to improving society.  However, to fully reap these benefits, personal data must be collected. 

PRO Position

by Stella Straub, ME Junior

Biometric data is classified as the “measurement and analysis of unique physical or behavioral characteristics, [...] especially as a means of verifying personal identity.”

This could include things like fingerprints, palm prints, DNA sequence, blood type, facial measurements, vein patterns, irises, and retinas, and more. 

We affirm the resolution; the United States Federal Government should ban the collection of personal data through biometric recognition technology.

The affirmative argumentation focuses on the dangers of biometric data and what it could look like if biometrics aren’t regulated in the future.  This could have important impacts on areas like personal privacy, public safety, and treatment of marginalized groups. 

To begin with, the constitutionality of biometric data is a bit of a murky area.  The 4th Amendment protects a citizen’s right to privacy against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.  Importantly, half of all U.S. adults are already included in police facial-recognition databases.  As biometric data becomes more prevalent, there is growing concern around an individual’s right to privacy and if extensive data on someone’s characteristics violates privacy rights. 

As biometric recognition technology and databases grow, so does the power given to those who have access to this information. 

In the status quo, biometric data is used by law enforcement agencies to maintain vast databases to track and surveil civilians. It’s already being used by many areas of the government. As Jay Stanley wrote in the article, “Three Key Problems with the Government's Use of a Flawed Facial Recognition Service” for the ACLU, “During the pandemic, at least 27 U.S. states started using’s service to verify identity for access to unemployment benefits.  The company is also being used by other federal agencies such as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Social Security Administration.”.  

One of the major risk factors with this is that private data is exposed to third party vendors.  This can greatly exasperate privacy concerns with such sensitive data.  As Hannah Quay-de la Vallee wrote in Public Agencies’ Use of Biometrics to Prevent Fraud and Abuse: Risks and Alternatives for the Center for Democracy and Technology: 

“These vendors will have access to both sensitive biometric info and potentially other data, depending on how their systems are designed. Requiring people to give sensitive data to a third party in order to obtain government benefits to which they are entitled presents concerns about the privacy of their data, who will have access to it, and how it will be used over time.”

Lastly, biometric recognition technology can replicate existing biases and increase existing disparities.  In fact, facial recognition technology has the most inaccuracies when used on Black women.  A report done by the NIST found that face recognition technologies across 189 algorithms are least accurate on women of color.  Some algorithms performed with error rates up to 34 percent higher on darker-skinned females than lighter-skinned males. 

These inequities contribute to racist policing, and the impact is that Black and Hispanic people are at much higher risk of being victimized by the police.  The highest rate of deaths from police violence occurs for Black Americans, who were estimated to be 3.5 times more likely to experience fatal police violence than white Americans.

Biometric technology, if not banned, can be a risk to personal privacy and security in addition to replicating and exasperating existing disparities in the country.

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