The UK public is now overwhelmingly in favour of wider biometrics use.
Seventy-six per cent are more in favour of biometrics than they were one year ago. The striking opinion change comes after a year in which the UK has thwarted an airline terrorist plot and 15 months after the London transport bombings of July 2005.
Personal safety was identified as the biggest driver for the change: three-quarters of people believed it was important for combating terrorism. However, there is widespread public confusion about what biometrics means in practice, with the majority of people confused about the terminology. In addition, concerns about civil liberties were highlighted by almost a third of respondents.
These are the key findings of the TSSI Biometrics in Britain Study 2006, undertaken by TSSI Systems, Britain's document and identity security specialists.
Danny Chapchal, CEO of TSSI Systems said: "I was astonished by the dramatic change in public opinion. Eight in ten people changing their opinion in the last year is a huge increase and can only be attributable to the terrorist attacks. These have no doubt forced acceptance of biometrics upon the nation, but a positive campaign of education is needed to allay fears about its use."
Personal safety was identified as the biggest driver for the change. Three-quarters of people believed it was essential or important for combating terrorism, with only 17 per cent viewing intelligence information as more important to fight terrorism than biometrics. 79 per cent of people were in favour or more accepting about the introduction of biometrics for any travel abroad.
A strong pattern of ambivalence was evident over usage of biometrics in everyday situations, such as in the rail, tube, retail and airline networks. People's primary concern was for the safety of the individual, so that usage of biometrics in airports received a resounding seal of approval. Eight out of ten (77 per cent) approved of its use, with only nine per cent actively against and the remaining respondents undecided. Almost half approved of usage of biometrics in Britain's underground tube networks. However, usage of biometrics in banking and retail was rejected by 59 and 63 per cent respectively.
The survey also highlighted public confusion about what biometrics means in practice. For example, when respondents were asked whether they knew that they may be subjected to biometric checks when travelling abroad, the majority (58 per cent) claimed ignorance. However, nearly the same number (63 per cent) claimed they were aware of the pending introduction of new international standards that will mandate the logging face and optionally, fingerprint data (ie, biometric data) on passports.
Concerns about civil liberty infringements remain a pressing issue in the minds of a significant proportion of the population. Nearly a third (28 per cent) rejected the creation of a Government biometric database - even if it led to better crime detection rates. While 54 per cent were convinced of its benefits, a further 18 per cent remained undecided and could join either camp with persuasion.
"Peace of mind is the biggest factor in the change. But the trade off between security and convenience is also an influence. The catastrophic delays and stringent measures after the thwarted terror attack on UK airlines in August 2006 appear to have pushed the British public towards applications of convenience. Would they rather stand in a security queue for hours at Heathrow, or be subjected to biometric checks and get through quickly to the shops? It seems people are now overwhelmingly opting for the latter," said Chapchal.
TSSI surveyed 1000 people between the ages of 18 and 60 at mainland stations in the UK in September and October 2006. The TSSI Biometrics in Britain study 2006 management report with full details of the findings, issues raised and recommendations can be requested from the following website: http://www.tssi.co.uk/tssi/biometric-britain.html.