The insidious threat of biometrics

From fingerprints to irises, our unique features are being hailed as an alternative to passwords. But not enough is being done to prevent abuse of the data collected.

Late last year, while researching material for a TEDx talk I was giving on biometric data, I came across an example that chilled me. In the summer of 2015, billboards in Hong Kong were plastered with life-sized posters of specific people's faces; not photographs, but close likenesses generated by a computer.

The software had reconstructed the faces of these people via their DNA, which had been taken from bits of litter such as chewing gum and cigarette butts and yielded enough data to work out characteristics such as ethnicity, face shape, eye, hair and skin colour, and freckles.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2019, with the headline 'The insidious threat of biometrics'. Print Edition | Subscribe