Learning to trust biometrics

Many education institutions are yet to realise the potential of biometric technology in meeting UK Border Agency proof of attendance requirements

For some, hand readers and finger scanners sound like the stuff of Bond movies, but arguably biometrics are one of the most effective and convenient ways to monitor student attendance. Despite this, it’s clear that biometrics suffers from a lack of public awareness and trust within the education sector.

That said, biometrics are already widely used in other industries in the UK. In the construction industry, for example, biometrics are now applied on most construction sites in order to maintain accurate health and safety records and also to guard against fraudulent ‘ghost worker’ activity, which was previously affecting the industry financially. Substantial costs were being incurred by construction firms due to sub-contractors clocking in colleagues who weren’t actually on site. Without being able to prove otherwise, firms were losing out to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Hand recognition technology solved these issues and is arguably an ideal solution to addressing some of the attendance verification issues that many UK universities are currently facing. For instance, one university in London was recently banned from issuing visas to foreign students because student attendance was not being adequately monitored. The issue arose due to the university being unable to prove that international students had attended lectures.

As it stands, universities that are unable to provide satisfactory evidence of attendance in line with their sponsor responsibilities are at risk of losing their ‘highly trusted status’, which allows them to attract those outside of the EU with sponsorship.

A robust student attendance management system would not only provide universities with proof of attendance, but an auditable trail which would help to satisfy the UK Border Agency (UKBA), allowing universities to continue to support foreign students.

Despite this, it’s clear that biometric technology suffers from a lack of trust and there is a long way to go until it is widely accepted as a safe security technology.

The data security issue

Biometric systems such as hand readers do not require any details about an individual other than their name. Details of home addresses, bank account numbers or other personal information are not stored in any file or database. The measurements taken of an individual’s hand are simply converted through a unique algorithm into a number, which is what is stored in the database. In fact, even if someone picked up the PC that the software is stored on and walked off with it, it would offer up no personal information whatsoever.

There remains an on-going challenge for many universities, schools and other organisations in relation to the management and protection of personal information, addresses and other confidential information. However, biometrics is not part of this problem and should not be lumped together with wider data security issues.

The fundamental point about hand recognition readers is that they recognise people, not plastic cards. This is paramount for organisations, such as universities, which require a high level of assurance that people are who they claim to be and are where they claim to be, i.e. attending lectures. In this way hand technology will provide universities with the ability to manage and prove student attendance.

Despite biometrics arguably being a highly reliable option in terms of the monitoring and managing attendance, there is still a long way to go in terms of understanding and acceptance across a number of industries, not least the education sector. However, the ability to monitor attendance in this way could mean the difference between satisfying UKBA requirements and missing them completely.

Dave Bulless is a security technology expert at Ingersoll Rand

W: www.allegion.co.uk


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