[Editorial] Be Careful with Private Use of Biometric Data

Posted on : 2006-01-10 06:39 KST Modified on : 2006-01-10 06:39 KST

The practice of essentially forcing students at driving schools to record their attendance with electronic fingerprint confirmation devices continues. When the program became a civil rights issue last year, the National Police Agency (NPA) announced it was going to make changes so that instead of being required, it would either become something "recommended" or that students might be able to sign in using their written signatures. The reality is, however, that most driving schools are refusing to accept students who do not want to sign in using their fingerprints because they think they are not worth the trouble.

It is not that one cannot understand the idea behind getting tough with irregularities at the private schools contracted to issue drivers licenses and to make sure the people receiving the licenses are the ones attending. But it is a typical example of making the rules so that they make life easier only for those making them to essentially force people who do not want to use their fingerprints to use them anyway. It is also embarrassing to have to see the police talk about alternative methods when the initial plan was to have the electronic fingerprint recognition system directly linked to NPA headquarters.

Even more a problem is that the indiscriminate use of biometric data recognition devices – and exclusively for reasons of expediency and efficiency – is becoming more widespread. Personal biometric data is directly related to one's private life, and if leaked it can too easily be misused for commercial purposes. Organs of the state have strict rules about collecting and managing personal data, so it is like assisting in an attack on personal rights to entrust that data to private companies. It is for the same kind of reasons that last year the National Human Rights Commission called for school cafeterias and libraries to stop using biometric data recognition.

Biometric recognition technology using fingerprints, eyes, veins, and voice is developing day by day, and commercial applications are also increasing. Meanwhile, laws on the collection and management of personal biometric data are still in their infancy. The government has even been unable to decide on a final version for rudimentary "biometric data protection standards," which were supposed to require strict management after being given with an individual's agreement. There first needs to be ample social discussion and agreement.

The Hankyoreh, 10 January 2006.

[Translations by Seoul Selection]