Where is The Line Between Enhanced Security and Privacy Abuse?

APAC Voices4 minutes readNov 25th, 2010

Technology is great.  You can automate stuff, it’s easy to share information with friends and colleagues and buying things online is a whole lot more convenient than hoofing it downtown to a shop or office. But it has also enabled the evolution of cybercrime, provided new avenues for identity theft and accidental data breaches are still reported regularly.  So how do you balance the tricky triad of acceptable security, privacy and convenience?  There is no simple answer, the delicate line between what we see as enhanced security on the one hand, or privacy abuse on the other, is constantly moving.

Compared to other countries, overall, Australians are moderately concerned about security.  According to the latest Unisys Security Index™ a regular snapshot of public perception toward security, Australia’s level of concern ranked sixth out of the 11 countries included in the research – more concerned than the Netherlands, New Zealand, Italy, the UK and Spain, but less concerned than Brazil, Hong Kong,  Germany, the US and Belgium.  Slap bang in the middle!

Australia’s level of concern ranks #6 in the Unisys Security Index

However, the top two security concerns for Australians are identity theft related with 56% extremely or very concerned about unauthorised access to or misuse of personal information, and 55% extremely or very concerned about credit/debit card fraud. This is understandable when you consider that one in five Australians has suffered identity theft or illegal access to personal details[i].

Because of this expectation for high security, combined with a demand for more convenience, from the organisations and government departments we deal with, there is a growing acceptance of forgoing some level of privacy, such as personal data, to enable enhanced security measures.

For example, in April the vast majority of Australian air travellers swept aside privacy concerns saying they were willing to undergo a range of procedures, such as full body scans and biometric identification, to increase aviation security and enable more efficient passenger processing.

Of the 80% of Australian adults who travel by air[ii]:

  • 70% are willing to submit to a full electronic body scan at an airport
  • 68% are willing to prove their identity using biometric data
  • 77% are willing to provide personal data in advance such as driver’s licence or passport

However, security and privacy are complex – and often very personal – issues.  Even though biometrics arguably offers the most effective defence against identity theft and unauthorised access to personal information, biometrics itself is often perceived as a threat to privacy.  This seemingly contradictory view is evident when looking at what Australians view as being acceptable use of biometrics.

The most recent Unisys Security Index[iii] research found that more than half the Australian population is willing to use voice recordings, eye scans or fingerprints to prove their identity to access bank records (69%), health records (68%), welfare payments (63%) and to access tax records or submit tax returns (65%).  But much fewer Australians support the use of biometrics to enrol in education classes (36%), join a club (34%), or board public transport (29%).

These results indicate that Australians are showing discretion about what circumstances they feel warrant the use of biometrics to prove their identity, and which organisations they support using it – such as banks and government departments.

Clearly, the support for various security measures varies significantly depending on the context.

Because of these variables, the boundary of what is acceptable as enhanced security, and what is resisted as an invasion of privacy is constantly moving – driven by a mixture of topical news, recent security related events, personal experience and whether we feel the security measure is necessary and beneficial on a personal level.

Therefore dialogue and education are essential components to the successful introduction of a new security measure – whether on a small or national scale.  It is this process that helps gauge the relevant community’s preparedness to participate and what concerns and questions they may have. This is particularly important for non-mandatory procedures that require participants to opt-in – often considered the more culturally acceptable way to introduce a new process in Australia where we jealously protect our freedom of choice.

Tags-   Biometrics Credit fraud Cyber crime Identity theft Personal data Unisys Security Index