Recently, the Social Security Board (SSB) has made plans to move forward with integrating biometric technology in its system in order to expedite the registration process. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, biometric technology refers to a system that identifies and verifies a person’s identity through unique aspects of their biology. This includes advanced technology like fingerprint scanners, facial recognition scanners, and voice pattern identification. By using this technology, the SSB aims for applicants to experience a speedier application procedure and a quicker method of claiming benefits, as well as reducing the prevalence of fraudulent claims. While implementing biometric technology comes with many advantages, it also comes with some concerns regarding data privacy and cybersecurity.
According to Social Security Board CEO Colin Young, the SSB will primarily be using fingerprint technology in their biometric system. To replace the proof of life forms that pensioners are required to fill out and sign every six months, a fingerprint scan of the user’s 10 digits will suffice instead. By aiming to reduce the amount fraud cases, the SSB’s initiative helps to ensure the sustainability of the pension fund, which many Belizeans rely on for an adequate, affordable, sustainable, and robust retirement income. On one level, this greatly benefits pensioners, especially those with poor vision and other physical difficulties. It also increases the likelihood that “the right person should get the right benefit at the right time,” says Young. However, in order to accommodate amputees and differently-abled persons, Young suggests that they may have to continue relying on the current system of utilizing proof of life forms.
Some questions that are currently being asked include: How will this sensitive data be stored? Is it actually as secure as you think, or can it be hacked? In order to remedy these concerns, the SSB plans to undertake a variety of security measures. Young states that the biometrics company that they plan on working with is trustworthy and globally recognized. Furthermore, they promise that the collection of fingerprints won’t be stored on the cloud or any system that can be remotely accessed by the internet. Only certain aspects of the fingerprints will be stored on what he calls a “minutiae map”, to prevent the likelihood of hacking. In addition to this, he cites privacy protection acts in their legal agreement, namely that “the information can only be used for the SSB and that any third party that wants access to the information will have to do so through a court order.”
Are these protections sufficient to safeguard your data? Perhaps not, claims Alex Moscov. If the biometrics company recruited by the SSB is considered a “third party”, he states that the government has access to your fingerprints, if warranted. This became a hotly debated issue in 2015 when Apple refused to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, recovered after a skirmish that followed the San Bernadino massacre. Apple cited worries that they would lose customers if they allowed third parties to bypass their fingerprint identification system, and they were subsequently sued by the FBI. Eventually, the FBI found someone with an unlocking device and withdrew the case. As a direct result, it became very clear that data privacy remains a major concern not only for Belizeans but for everyone around the world. You only have to look at the amount of people looking to expand their knowledge on network and cybersecurity to get an idea of how people are beginning to realize the imminent risks. The cybersecurity courses on Udemy are some of the top-rated and most popular on the learning platform, highlighting the population’s growing desire to protect their networks and keep their data safe.
Although the previous case might worry you, biometric technology is still much safer than a password system. The relative ease of using a fingerprint scanner is undeniable, and according to this article by Nathaniel Mott on Inverse, it’s much easier to change a stolen password than it is to change a stored fingerprint’s blueprint. Moreover, they state that some fingerprint scanners have the ability to “look beneath the skin to analyze someone’s veins or determine if someone’s using a fake print,” minimizing the likelihood that your stolen prints will be used to forge your identity. This is probably why the SSB hopes to integrate fingerprint technology in early 2020, with the public said to be generally supportive of their decision thus far. Similarly, technology is also being implemented in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in order to improve aspects in the judicial system. Examples include the live streaming of hearings, the electronic filing of cases, and an increased social media footprint. Justice Adrian Saunders, president of the CCJ, states that in order for these new technological developments to take place, “you need objective infrastructure and then you also need judicial officers who are open to and who understand the value of being in the digital age.”
Do you have any positive or negative thoughts regarding the SSB’s planned implementation of biometric technology? Feel free to send in any opinions and feedback.