Unisys study shows U.S. public trusts biometrics for data protection

Published 11 December 2008

Privacy advocates may be worried about the proliferation of biometrics for identification purposes, but a recent Unisys survey shows that Americans are comfortable with the idea of banks and government agencies asking them for biometric data for identity verification

Privacy advocates may worry about the increasing use of biometrics for identification, but it appears that the public is not bothered. In evidence: A recent survey conducted by Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-based Unisys (NYSE: UIS) found that a majority of Americans are comfortable using common biometric technologies for authentication. More than 70 percent of respondents said they trusted banks and government agencies to ask them for biometric data for identity verification. Additionally, fingerprints nearly tied personal passwords as the primary preferred authentication method — 73 percent to 72 percent, respectively.

The biometrics survey was conducted alongside the latest installment of the Unisys Security Index, which found that a majority of Americans continue to have strong concerns about identity theft and fraud with their credit and debit cards. Sixty-two percent of Americans said they were extremely or very concerned about the safety of their personal information, and 60 percent expressed serious concern about credit and debit card fraud.

Despite ongoing fears about identity theft and fraud, and a willingness by consumers to adopt biometric technology, many organizations have yet to embrace this technology as an effective way to protect data and identities,” said Mark Cohn, vice president of enterprise security at Unisys. “Risk management only gets more challenging with the current financial crisis. Sophisticated cybercriminals know how to take advantage of increasing consumer anxiety as well as perhaps weaker internal controls at banks as a result of layoffs and reorganizations. Adoption of advanced biometric technologies as a critical security measure is a possible solution, but it also must be augmented with best practices and stringent policies and procedures.”

The Unisys Security Index, by the way, is a biannual study that measures consumers’ views about key security issues. Each survey also includes supplemental research on a security niche topic such as the current data on biometric authentication methods. Other findings of the most recent research include:

  • Older and higher income groups significantly favor fingerprint scans, with 76 percent of people aged 35-49 and 50-64, and 79 percent of people earning $50,000 or more approving this verification method.
  • Additional consumer preferences for authentication include photographs (69 percent), personal identification numbers (PINs) (69 percent), eye scans (61 percent), voice recognition (55 percent), and face scans (52 percent).
  • Americans are significantly less supportive of hand/blood vessel scans, with only 43 percent favoring this authentication method.
  • Men and women are willing to use biometrics to verify their identity at similar rates. Women, however, are less supportive of advanced methods such as eye scans (57 percent) and hand scans (39 percent) when compared with men, 66 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

Biometric authentication technology provides institutions with greater efficiencies and improved authentication accuracy. Businesses and agencies that use these methods also experience increased customer confidence regarding privacy issues,” Cohn said. “Because U.S. consumer acceptance of biometric data for security verification is increasing, mirroring trends we see around the world, we expect to see these technologies more broadly deployed in the future, from airport security checkpoints to on line banks.” 

The recent biometrics data supports results of similar research that Unisys conducted in 2006 which also found that a majority of consumers worldwide support biometrics for identity authentication.

Unisys is a major actor in integrating biometric technologies. Unisys solutions are installed in the Ports of Los Angeles and Halifax and twenty-nine Canadian airports under the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, and in passports and IDs for citizens issued by the Australian and Malaysian governments.