Identity protection and the online behaviour of younger people – a revealing new study from the University of Kent

A study conducted by the University of Kent and the UK Biometrics Institute (UKBI) on behalf of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has revealed that more effort is required to brief young people about how to change their online behaviours and protect their identities.

The study, which was commissioned in 2009, analyses a number of issues relating to the views of young people (typically in the 16-25 age group) on the subject of personal identity, vulnerabilities to identity fraud and, especially, their perception of biometrics technologies as a means of determining or authenticating personal identity. The study involved a series of three workshops with young people, teachers and stakeholders, one of which was run in association with the Education Department at Bletchley Park National Code Centre.

Other key findings include:

that in order to successfully deploy biometric technology among younger people, it is important to be able to understand and predict individual behaviours as ‘young people’ do not represent a homogeneous, well-defined and completely characterised community
that because this community has grown up with the internet, they tend not to modify their behaviours between the real and virtual worlds, with their concept of “identity” fundamentally different from that experienced by preceding generations. This phenomenon, together with the acceleration in the volume of personal data in the virtual world, is leading to an increasing risk to young people’s identities
that they often treat issues of identity in a more informal way than has traditionally been the case. Yet they are very sensitive to the requirements of establishing identity in many practical situations, and welcome attempts to make this an easier and more reliable process
that the current Schools Curriculum provides, in principle, the opportunity to discuss matters relating to identity protection and that this does occur, but there is also a sense that more could and should be done in this regard
that, in general, young people had no serious concerns about using biometric technologies. The ease with which students adapted to the practical use of biometric devices was striking, as was their ability to identify and discuss some of the issues associated with their use.

Professor Michael Fairhurst from the University of Kent’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts, and principal investigator on the study, said: ‘The opportunity to gain some new insights into young people’s perceptions on issues of identity has been very enlightening. This will inform future technological research in the field, such as that for which the Kent Group is well known, but is also very timely in the context of wider current national concerns.’

James Hall, Chief Executive of the Identity and Passport Service, said: ‘This report shows that many young people are positive about the use of biometrics and welcome the adoption of this technology as a means to protect their identity.

‘Young people are already taking advantage of modern biometric technology in their daily lives. The National Identity Card offers a convenient, quick, reliable and secure way of asserting their identity, whether it is to open a bank account, enter a nightclub or travel to Europe.’