• OWLS

  • Wise words on Privacy

Learning about Biometrics

Key Messages

  • Biometrics refers to a person's unique physical attributes such as fingerprints, face, iris, voice, hand geometry or behaviour.
  • Using biometrics is becoming a cheap and efficient way of recording and storing a person's identity.
  • Your biometric says "you". So be careful who you give it to.
  • Biometrics aren't needed for everything. Organisations collecting biometrics need to have very good reasons to do so.
  • Using biometrics is convenient because you always have your ID with you but along with convenience and security comes a concern for privacy.
  • For biometrics to work databases are needed to store this information. Privacy is dependent on the security of the database.

Illustrating the topic

  • Discussion Statements:
  • A. Because you are unique, a biometric system means databases are more likely to have an accurate, single record of you. Other methods may record you two or three times because your name is slightly different or you have changed addresses.
  • B. You can cancel a library card or not use a PIN but you cannot cancel your unique features.
  • C. Security cameras are getting smarter - they increasingly have technologies like facial recognition built in.
  • D. Devices that store biometrics, such as finger scanners, need to be secure. If the biometric is no longer needed (for example because someone does not work in a particular place any more) they need to be deleted.
  • E. Someone else on a Social Media site may tag your face so that each time a new photo is added your face is recognised and named.
  • F. Biometric data can be cheaply collected and linked from a range of places, stored forever and used by anyone (good or bad).
  • G. Facial Recognition may not always be accurate if someone is covering their face (with a hood or hair) or alters their face with surgery.

Discussion Questions

  • Describe what physical features are unique to you
  • How many different types of biometric systems has the class heard about?
  • Is it possible for someone to steal your identity using biometrics?
  • In what ways are biometric systems convenient?
  • Predict how biometrics might be used in the future. How will this affect your privacy?
  • Facial recognition technology is a form of biometrics. How could you find out if these technologies are available in NZ to record faces?
  • Is it possible to check or remove your biometric data? (refer O5 for access and correction)


  • Do a class or individual Plus, Minus, Interesting (PMI) to analyse statements from the statements illustrating the topic
  • Explore how biometrics can affect privacy positively, negatively, or neutrally using the statements. Use the Analyse Template to assist your thinking and justify a generalisation.
  • Describe how Biometrics works. Divide the class into groups to become experts on specific types such as Fingerprints, Retina, Facial, Voice, etc. Each group shares learning to teach the class about their topic.
  • Make and compare fingerprints (get parental permission first and remember to keep any fingerprints secure and destroy them securely after the exercise).
  • Record student voices (in other classes also or teachers) reading the same sentence on the computer. Can they recognise the voices?
  • Use Photobooth or Digital Photos to compare faces - do some maths measurements eg nose length, distances between eyes, sort face shapes or find some that are very similar, experiment with semi disclosed faces in shadows or at a distance.
  • Print off some social media site privacy statements and compare how biometrics are used and kept private (eg facial recognition technologies).