Support is strong for gov't use of biometric IDs

Overwhelming number of Americans favor biometrics use in passports, driver's licenses, Social Security cards

Despite some misgivings, an overwhelming number of Americans favor the use of biometric identifiers in passports, driver's licenses and Social Security cards, according to a new survey by Truste, a non-profit online privacy certification organization based in San Francisco.

The same is true when it comes to the use of biometric IDs in credit and debit cards, although most of those who responded to the survey appear to be reluctant to share biometric data with retailers because of privacy concerns.

The e-mail survey of 1,025 U.S. consumers, conducted by Truste and London-based market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), looked at how Americans view the use of biometrics for a variety of identification purposes.

"The survey results seem to indicate that in dealing with government use of biometric data, most people will tolerate a decrease in personal privacy to gain increased security in the form of physical safety," Fran Maier, executive director and president of Truste, said in a statement. "This doesn't seem to translate to the retail sphere, where consumers appear to be more cautious about giving away their personally identifiable information."

A full 82 percent of the respondents in the survey said they support the use of biometrics in passports, while more than 72 percent support adding it to Social Security Cards and driver's licenses.

Much of the support for government-use of biometrics appeared to be based on the belief that biometric identifiers would make it much harder for terrorists to operate within the U.S. The support however was tempered with substantial concern. For instance, 60 percent of survey respondents agreed there was a "high potential" for government misuse of biometric data, while 53 percent said that the use of biometrics would allow the government to track their movements -- thereby reducing their personal privacy.

On the retail side, more than 60 percent of those surveyed said they like the idea of using biometric identifiers in credit and debit cards, even though two-thirds appear unsure about the effectiveness of the technology in curbing ID theft. Only 27 percent of those surveyed, however, support the use of biometrics in retail-store loyalty cards.

The results reveal a "very strong desire" on the part of many people to have new and better forms of security and authentication when it comes to national and financial security, said Carolyn Hodge, a director at Truste. "But the numbers also show that there is still some work that needs to be done on the retail side to build trust" with consumers, she said.

This story, "Support is strong for gov't use of biometric IDs" was originally published by Computerworld.