The Biometric Citizen

The Biometric Citizen
By Sujan Parthasaradhi, Director of Biometric Applications, HID Global, APAC

Biometrics is becoming more familiar in the commercial marketplace, but it has a relatively long history of use by governments worldwide -- not only to lower security risks and mitigate fraud, but also to improve the delivery of goods and services to citizens. The focus on strong personal identification is the best means of achieving these objectives. Whether the application is border control or benefit disbursement, knowing the identity of whomever is gaining access to a country, service or privilege is at the heart of any viable government authentication solution, and biometrics is the key.

Biometric National IDs

Governments have a vested interest in knowing who is being issued an identity credential, such as a driver’s license or passport, and are increasingly turning to biometrics for the answer. biometrics identity management system (BIMS), launched by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has helped to identify and update the records of nearly 110,000 registered and unregistered refugees in Thailand’s nine border camps within five months. As a result, there is now a comprehensive statistical overview of the Myanmar refugee population in Thailand.[1]

The sheer scale of public sector programs presents unique challenges for a chosen authentication solution. For example, the national ID program in India (UID) seeks to assign unique biometric credentials to over one billion people. Citizen identity authentication solutions must be especially accurate and secure because they are used by large and diverse populations. Additionally, the credentials must be unique, difficult to copy, and yet easy to use to facilitate convenient transactions while protecting citizens from identity fraud.[2]

The scale of government projects magnifies even a small error rate into significant numbers which makes the reliability of the biometric technology a critical factor, especially in unattended environments. As one of the largest urban refugee hosts in Asia, Malaysia has been constantly fighting against identity fraud and use of counterfeit documentation. To combat these problems, UNHCR has issued new biometric ID cards with enhanced security features for refugees in Malaysia, including retina, fingerprints and faces scans. The new card allows law enforcement authorities to verify its authentication easily by scanning the SQR code on a mobile app.[3]

Multispectral imaging technology was specifically developed to overcome fingerprint capture problems that have plagued conventional fingerprint sensors, such as replicated fake identity cards. Based on the use of multiple spectrums of light and advanced polarization techniques, the HID Global Lumidigm® technology reads unique fingerprint characteristics from both the surface and subsurface of the skin. The collection of subsurface data is important because the fingerprint ridges seen on the surface of the finger have their foundation beneath the surface of the skin, in the capillary beds and other sub-dermal structures. Unlike surface fingerprint characteristics, which can be obscured during imaging by moisture, dirt or wear, the “inner fingerprint” lies undisturbed and unaltered beneath the surface.

When surface fingerprint information is combined with subsurface fingerprint information and reassembled in an intelligent and integrated manner, the results are more consistent, inclusive and tamper-resistant.

Benefit Disbursement with Biometric Verification

Governments around the world provide direct benefits to citizens, such as education, healthcare, pension schemes, employment, food rations and financial inclusion. How can program administrators be certain that these goods and services are reaching the intended recipients? What percentage of goods is being diverted to enrich corrupt officials? Are pension benefits being paid out after the death of the intended recipient? Administrators must be able to know who is receiving the goods and services — and only biometrics can verify the identity of recipients with certainty.

In India, some of the largest social welfare programs suffered because of ineligible beneficiaries receiving payments and corrupt officials taking a cut of or delaying payments meant for the needy. Combining the country’s biometric identification system, which currently covers 19 million villagers, with the $5.5 billion National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, corruption and inaccuracies are greatly reduced and the funds can then reach the intended recipients sooner.[4]

Managing Borders with Biometrics

The case for using biometrics at international borders is well-established. Some border crossings are so busy, however, that it might seem that moving people through quickly is a competing priority. Hong Kong Immigration solved that problem by deploying multispectral fingerprint biometrics. The technology reliably authenticates 250,000-400,000 visitors every day while alleviating long processing delays and preventing spoof attacks. It’s an extraordinary achievement that’s becoming commonplace in other sectors.

In Thailand, police is implementing facial recognition at all border checkpoints. The instalment will not only speed up the immigration screening process, but also prevent transnational crimes.

The operational conditions and heavy-duty cycles required by many e-border applications demand a sensor that is robust, durable, and tamper-resistant. The devices and software selected must be capable of successfully collecting a usable image under a wide variety of environmental and human conditions.

Focusing on Identity

Identity is a perennial social and political issue. By binding rights and privileges to specific individuals, biometrics enables a renewed focus on the protection of identity, rights, privileges and privacy. We all have only one true identity, and this identity must be protected in a sensible, balanced and efficient way. With biometrics, governments can be assured who is claiming rights and privileges.


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