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The Use Of Biometric Data By UK Car Hire Companies

Sep 6, 2008
The car hire industry has never really been at the forefront of technological development, this however is set to change with the widespread introduction of biometric data recorders in many car hire outlets countrywide. This move is an attempt by UK rental companies to secure their fleets while maintaining high levels of customer services. The use of biometric data however has created somewhat of a furore amongst the press ad the public. With the recording of this data, a large set of privacy and personal information questions are raised; naturally human rights arguments are abound in opposition to the use of these technologies.

While in the past the recording of your fingerprint was simply a way for police to compile information on suspects for crimes, today their recording is far more widespread. UK car hire companies have started using electronic scanners to build a biometric profile of their customers. The first scheme in the country has been trialled at Essex's Stansted Airport; this scheme was a mandatory recording of a thumbprint should a customer wish to hire a car. Understandably the response has been mixed, some do not mind having their thumbprint taken while others feel that this is an invasion of privacy and worry about what will happen to the data once it is stored.

Rental companies claim that the data will be used in the event of theft and will subsequently be handed over to the police if the car is not returned. As rental cars are often used in other crimes it is hoped that this will help the police not only recover stolen vehicles, but hep to prevent crimes in other areas. This is particularly true at Stansted Airport where a spate of thefts have occurred involving major rental companies. It is believed to be direct response to the large numbers of thefts by organised criminals using stolen vehicles for crimes such as bank robberies.

The reasons behind the introduction of biometric data seem logical enough but this has not prevented many from criticising the scheme. The fear of the 'Big Brother' world is very real amongst the public, a fear that the rental companies in question are quick to allay. They claim that the data will never be used unless a crime is committed. This reassurance has not pleased all however. One particular customer stated that after being made to give his thumbprint his initial reaction was that the representative had to be joking. After being told that it was a new compulsory scheme, any semblance of comedy left the customer's mind; later saying that this was clearly an arbitrary and disproportionate form of tackling car crime.

In the past the passport has been the predominant form of identification needed to hire a car. This however is fraught with problems as clearly cars are being stolen on request with false identification. Additionally, many people are concerned about handing over their biometric data to companies, as fears over how this data will be stored and the security of this storage are understandable concerns. It is not just the car hire industry however that are utilising this technology. Many other industries are already embracing it as a more secure way to carry out transactions. For instance some shops within the UK now have thumbprint scanners that are used for credit card payments. As well as this the modern passport also contains face mapping technology on a microchip that allows for closer scrutiny at border control.

The argument over the use of biometric data is surely set to continue within the UK. It is not just the car hire companies but many others who see it as a way to prevent crime and protect assets. As rental companies are ever more pressured to find ways of securing their fleets it is an understandable reaction that is likely to become widespread in the coming years.
About the Author
Industry expert Thomas Pretty looks into ways in which car hire UK companies are utilising new biometric technologies.
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