When it comes to biometrics, human resource professionals must know privacy rules and science because they will be the first to handle data collected from retinal scans, fingerprints, voice imprints and the like.
So says Dr. Len Goodman, a defense scientist with Defence Research and Development Canada, an agency of the Canadian Department of National Defence.
The easiest way to do that is through education, and HR professionals might have to get up to speed on their own.
Because Canada shares a border with the United States, fears of possible terrorism there led them to action. After 9/11, Canada became serious about instituting biometric programs, albeit slowly, Goodman said during a telephone interview with SHRM Online.
“Since 9/11, Canada recognized that we needed to ramp up our science and technology capabilities.” A substantial investment has been made to “create an initiative designed to put enhanced technology in the hands of first responders,” Goodman told attendees at the 2nd Annual Biometrics for National Security and Defense conference held just outside Washington, D.C., in February 2009.
He said the Canadian government learned a lot from the United States in those first days following the devastating terrorist attack on American soil.
“One big [lesson] is that all of the different agencies in the U.S. seem able and willing to share information,” Goodman said. “Things like templates and exchange formats and databases and information on privacy procedures.”
Another lesson is how the United States shares information among different levels of government and different agencies. For example, he said “the Department of Defense is sharing lessons learned and techniques with Transportation Security Administration
(TSA) officials, who are sharing information with Border Protection and Homeland Security. There seems to be a very good sharing of technical aspects and biometric databases,” he said.
“That’s a very interesting lesson learned for us in Canada,” he said.
But for now, training people in the field of biometrics hasn’t been cohesive, experts say.
Learning Is Fundamental
Even so, HR will need to lead the way when it comes to biometric collection and security, Goodman said.
“It’s really up to human resource professionals” to hone their knowledge of science and technology “so they can learn what’s coming down the pike,” Goodman said.
And what’s coming down the pike is stunning.
Many things will be miniaturized—such as cameras, scanners and computers. Advances in nanotechnology and the fusion of biometric technology—face, iris print, and voice— into video surveillance is on its way as well. High-performance computing, advance counter-spoofing technology and increased international cooperation round out the list, Goodman said. He added that industry and academic will lead the way in these advances, road-mapping biometric technologies.
And HR will be on the forefront of keeping this data secure, as privacy will be a top priority.
“It’s coming to grips with how to handle biometric data” that will be the challenge for HR, Goodman said. He said HR professionals will need to focus on storage and collection and to assuage fears and misconceptions that specialized equipment used to capture this biometric data could cause employees harm.
“Such as: When you take a picture of a face,” some believe that “you are exposing the person to radiation or damage, and that’s not true. There are no [side] effects. It’s completely non-invasive.”
Storage and collection shouldn’t be a concern either, he said.
“There are tremendous advances in encryption and database storage, and they are continuous,” he said. “The really important advances will be in the encryption and protection of information, and that’s the key thing,” he said.
People should remember that “biometrics is more than just cameras and scanners,” Goodman pointed out. “It’s information technology specialists who are there to create the safe storage and templates that are impenetrable from theft,” he said. “If done right it can be very, very secure. For example, “there are tools to encrypt an iris or a piece of voice, and that can become very secure.”
Unfortunately, employees aren’t all ready for these new advances, but the government is hoping to change that, one expert said.
When it comes to biometrics, “we are not preparing the employee for the 21st century workforce” nationally or internationally, Michael Yura, Ph.D., told conference attendees.
Yura, a consultant and a former senior vice president for the National Biometric Security Project, West Virginia Operations, said the federal government and other organizations are working to develop a worldwide curriculum to train future workers in the field of biometrics.
Only one university in the world offers an undergraduate degree in biometrics—West Virginia University—where Yura helped develop the program with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s assistance in 1996.
Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.