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Former DHS head Tom Ridge says biometrics will restore social trust


Biometric authentication is the method which can enable the connected society to get full benefit of the internet and the digital world, according to commentary penned by former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and published by CNBC on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Biometrics will enable this change by expanding society’s “trust sphere” to include the broader set of people and organizations the digital world requires.

Programs like Global Entry and TSA PreCheck which use biometrics to ease the travel experience of frequent flyers are just scratching the surface of the potential benefit of biometric technology, Ridge writes. As an early proponent of biometrics at DHS, Ridge oversaw the creation of the US-VISIT program, which provides biometric identification services for federal, state, and local government use.

He lauds the innovative use of biometrics by USAA, which enables military families and veterans to access financial information through a smartphone app with fingerprint, voice, or facial identification, and traces the historical development of social trust from the days when people could recognize most of the people they interacted with on sight to the integration of biometrics with mobile devices.

“Some would argue that we made a major mistake in 1960, when we started using the silliest of all ways to prove your identity – a password,” Ridge point out.

The commentary begins with the loss of trust suffered in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which motivated early investments in biometrics, including US-VISIT, but Ridge explains that trust is constantly eroded by data breaches, malware, and examples of trust violations in news headlines. Now, the proliferation of biometric capabilities in smartphones and “the Internet of Everything” provides a way to re-establish that trust.

“(A)s we begin at long last to transition away from antiquated passwords to a more secure and convenient way to authenticate ourselves using our own identities, we can start to see the positive consequences of trust – a ‘trust dividend’,” Ridge writes. “That’s the power of biometrics. When you put the human back into the transaction, it becomes more secure with less friction.”

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