5G networks and biometric breakthroughs: Navigating opportunities and risks

The launch of 5G networks has opened a new chapter in how we connect. This technology, known for its incredibly fast speeds and almost non-existent delay, is already changing how we use our devices and access the internet, and one area where 5G’s capabilities are making major waves is biometric authentication.

Businesses are quickly adopting 5G to introduce advanced security features such as facial recognition that can spot people in large groups or heartbeat monitoring for ongoing user verification. However, while these technologies improve safety and ease of use, they also raise serious concerns about how sensitive biometric information is gathered and might be misused.

This article discusses how these technologies can change the way we live, plus some of the challenges they bring. 

5G and the evolution of biometric technologies

5G technology is a new generation of wireless technology that enhances the capabilities of biometric systems. This enables more secure and efficient methods for identifying and authenticating individuals through unique biological characteristics.

Biometrics relies on physiological and behavioural measurements. Physiological biometrics include fingerprints, facial recognition, heartbeat, iris scans and DNA. Behavioural biometrics include voice recognition, signature dynamics and keystroke dynamics.

The integration of 5G into biometric technologies enhances their performance in several ways. First, the increased speed and reduced latency of 5G networks enable real-time processing of biometric data, allowing for immediate authentication and identification. This is crucial in scenarios requiring rapid verification, such as access control systems or border security checks, as well as any efforts to use minimum viable principles in data governance, especially when ensuring all data points are context-sensitive.

Furthermore, 5G’s enhanced bandwidth supports the transmission of high-resolution biometric data, improving the accuracy of biometric systems. For example, higher-quality images for facial recognition systems or more detailed voice data for voice recognition systems can be processed, reducing the chances of false rejections or acceptances.

While some people believe that a QR code generator is enough in these scenarios, there are also biometric evangelists who view the benefits as greater than the sum of risks.

Additionally, 5G’s ability to connect a vast number of devices simultaneously supports the deployment of biometric systems in a wider range of applications and environments. This is particularly beneficial for smart cities and internet of things (IoT) applications, where biometric systems can be used for a variety of purposes, from enhancing public security to providing personalised services​​.

Potential applications and use cases

The transformative potential of 5G across these domains is substantial, promising not only to enhance current services, but also to introduce new capabilities and applications that were previously not feasible. 

As 5G networks continue to roll out globally, we can expect to see significant advancements in these areas. This will drive innovation and improve the quality of services and life for individuals and communities worldwide.

That being said, below are some of the real-life uses of biometrics enhanced with 5G networks.

Healthcare and telemedicine

The integration of 5G into healthcare enhances video communication for telemedicine and remote medicine. In other words, this technology allows for high-definition video conferences without lag, facilitating better patient care through remote monitoring and telemedicine. 

It’s particularly beneficial in areas with limited health infrastructure, as it could even support robotics-assisted surgeries alongside live video streaming. 

The potential for 5G in healthcare is vast, with predictions of the market reaching approximately $459.71bn by 2030. This growth will see advancements in virtual consultation applications and an increase in healthcare providers leveraging 5G technology for better service delivery​.

Moreover, 5G will improve home healthcare and remote patient monitoring, providing real-time, robust connections for patients. Companies are already developing artificial intelligence (AI)-based telehomecare systems with remote support teams that monitor individuals’ activities 24/7. 

This technology, combined with wearable devices such as smartwatches and monitors that transmit vital data directly to healthcare providers, will make patient care more effective and personalised​.

However, healthcare is also one of the industries most targeted by cyber crime. So, as companies embrace technology, they also need to find the right tools, including HIPAA-compliant hosting, to protect patient data.

Law enforcement and security

In law enforcement and security, 5G can enhance real-time surveillance capabilities, improve communication systems, and support advanced technologies for public safety and crime prevention. 

The high data transmission rates and reduced latency facilitate better management of video surveillance footage and quicker response times during emergencies.

Access control and identity management

5G also enables more sophisticated and secure biometric systems for access control and identity management. It supports the deployment of real-time facial recognition and other biometric technologies, ensuring secure access to buildings and sensitive areas with minimal delay.

Privacy and security concerns associated with biometrics 

The integration of biometric data into security systems and various technologies has raised significant privacy and security concerns.

Given these concerns, it is crucial for organisations to carefully consider the implications of using biometric data. Policymakers should also work towards comprehensive regulations that protect individual privacy and security while allowing for technological innovation.

Some of the key concerns are listed below.

Risks of biometric data breaches and misuse

Biometric data, being unique and immutable, poses significant risks if compromised. Unlike passwords, biometric identifiers cannot be changed, making their misuse potentially irreparable. There have been instances where fingerprints faked with a 3D printer were used to unlock a smartphone in under 20 minutes, highlighting the feasibility of such data being hacked​.

Using device-based authentication, where biometric data is stored and processed locally on the user’s device rather than centrally, can reduce the risk of mass data breaches. Companies are also responsible for protecting any data they have stored. There is a lot they can do, from using pen-testing tools and staying up to date with trends to surfing the dark web for potential leaks.

Potential for surveillance and privacy violations

The collection of biometric data, such as facial recognition from security cameras, raises concerns over surveillance and privacy violations. The ubiquity of cameras and the ease with which biometric data can be captured without explicit consent increase the potential for privacy infringements​​.

Implementing strict data collection policies, ensuring data is used solely for its intended purpose, and obtaining clear user consent can help address these concerns.

Lack of regulatory frameworks and guidelines

The US lacks a federal law governing the capture, storage or processing of biometric data, leaving regulation to individual states. This piecemeal approach can lead to inconsistencies and gaps in protection against the misuse of biometric information, and given the US’s dominance of the technology industry, this is a global issue.

Advocating for and adhering to emerging standards and guidelines in the absence of regulation can help organisations manage biometric data responsibly.

Challenges with data storage and management

Managing and securely storing biometric data presents significant challenges. The data is highly sensitive, and its storage must be secure to prevent unauthorised access. Yet, without federal guidelines, standards vary widely, and the risk of breaches remains​​​.

Employing encryption for data at rest and in transit, alongside using secure and resilient storage solutions, can protect biometric data​​​.

Ethical considerations 

Ethical considerations, including the need for consent and transparency in the collection and use of biometric data, are critical when mixing biometrics and 5G. 

Imagine a more dystopian scenario – a software provider has access to all your biometric info, which can correlate with your other personal information, thereby knowing when to increase the price and thereby sentencing you to supplier lock-in and extracting money in a particularly shady manner.

Organisations can address these by being transparent with users about data collection practices and providing them with control over their biometric information. Users must be informed about what data is collected, how it is used, and who has access to it to make informed decisions about their participation​.

Getting the balance right

5G and biometric security methods are very powerful, but they also raise important privacy and security issues. 

As these technologies become more common, we must have strong data protection rules to keep people’s information safe and private. Different groups like technology companies, government and security experts need to work together. 

This will help make sure 5G and biometrics are developed and used responsibly. We should take advantage of the benefits but also address the risks to privacy and ethics. With careful planning, we can use these new technologies while still protecting people’s rights.

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