Personal Information is Ubiquitous in the Digital World

September 16, 2014
By Rita Boland

Get free stuff, but risk losing your identity.

The new generation of college graduates “don’t know or seem to care that their data is being [distributed] and sold to others, because they’re getting free stuff.” Duane Blackburn, currently with MITRE and formerly the assistant director for homeland security at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, made this point at the Global Identity Summit in Tampa today to explain generational differences regarding information sharing and privacy. From posting information online to using loyalty cards at stores, exposing personal information to various parties has become a societal norm, one that has consequences.

Blackburn used one of his friends as a somewhat unsettling example, showing all the information he was able to collect online about that person, including expected ones such as where he lived; slightly less expected ones such as with whom he lived and ones that could qualify for identification online security questions including the name of a third cousin on his mother’s side.

In 2012, 16.6 million people were victims of identity theft. Frost & Sullivan, a consulting group, estimates that in the next three years, biometrics identification will increase by an order of magnitude. People often don’t know who has their information, how those groups are using it or even if it’s correct. Blackburn explained that privacy optimization is an unattainable goal, though experts are working hard at it. Not all the results are negative, however. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, tracked more than 200,000 terrorists last year as a result of watchlist identifications.

In the short term, federal systems will continue their evolution to accommodate changing priorities. The private sector also will continue to adopt more identification technologies, which will expand their proliferation. “Online transactions are establishing a new paradigm,” Blackburn said.

Looking to the long term, the government will work with futurists who can help predict what the future will look like for biometric identification. Leaders also will take a system-of-systems approach that will link biometrics technologies to ones from other disciplines.

Blackburn also shared that the UK Parliament is looking for biometrics experts to share their knowledge and opinions. People who would like to contribute can visit for more information.

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