Eye know you: Australians are you up for biometric identification?
October 7, 2019
In this essay, five sections will be presented, where it will all be mainly focusing on the debatable topic of whether Australia should adapt itself to a biometric identification system. With regards to India’s Unique Identification scheme and other usages on the biometric identification system, a more in-depth analysis will be conducted. Five sections of detailed examination would be followed by the below sequence of topics:
- the history and definition of biometric identification,
- requirements of biometrics,
- India’s Aadhaar Programme,
- for and against points toward Australia’s biometric system,
- possible implication and recommendation.
Lastly, it would be concluded with evidence that currently Australia would not need a centralized biometric database.
What is biometric identification?
The genesis of the contemporary biometric identification could be dated back in the mid 19th century. As the Persian anthropologist, Alphonse Bertillon, developed the method of using human body measurement to identify criminals, it then also led to the latter use of human fingerprints in the late 19th century (Prabhakar, Pankanti & Jain, 2003). As personal recognition has played a significant role throughout history, by different looks, facial expressions, and gaits, one can identify one and another. Thus, in today’s biometric identification, it could be referred to as a technological or automatic way of personal recognition based on various physiological behavior and biological features (Jain, Bolle & Pankanti, 2006).
Requirements for biometric identification
According to Prabhakar, Pankanti & Jain (2003), there are four requirements that biometrics should satisfy and meet up the standard, which are:
- Universality. A common sharing characteristic among people.
- Distinctiveness. Each individual will be possessed with a unique characteristic.
- Permanence. A particular characteristic that remains unchangeable over a period of time.
- Collectability. The characteristic could be measured and collected.
The above requirements are the basic principles to be validated as biometric use. However, when implementing systems on a national scale, there is always more to consider. Thus, the following section will be examining the case of India’s Aadhaar card scheme for a deeper understanding of an existing biometric system.
World’s largest biometric system: India’s Aadhaar Program
Before the emergence of the Aadhaar program, the Indian Government has undergone a step-by-step evolution of biometric identifications. The Government had pioneered to provide clear identities to residents by giving out photo identity cards back in 1993, and in 2003, they further issued the Multipurpose National Identity Card (UIDAI, 2010). Subsequently, in 2009, after the formation of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Aadhaar’s Unique Identification Number (UID) model was introduced. Moreover, it is notable that it requires the biometrics of enrollees’ ten fingerprints, two iris scans, and facial scans. The Aadhaar enrollees will be tied with a distinct 12-digit number, which could then link them through welfare services and daily practices.
The fundamental idea behind this model is to:
a.) eliminate fake, duplicate or ghost identities, and
b.) improve the lack of identification in rural area or urban poor districts (Nair, 2018).
However, this system provokes the questions of privacy and the doubts of its effectiveness which then led to a great debate.
To be or not to be: the next Aadhaar system in Australia?
In 2018, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) decided to terminate the national-wide Biometric Identification Services (BIS) project (Doran, 2018). Citing delay as the main cause, ACIC’s discontinuance raised public awareness on the implementation of biometric identification systems in Australia once again.
Supporters: Australians are ready!
As biometrics has long been considered an ultimate way while dealing with identity-checking issues, supporters believed that biometric identification should be considered as a digital identity ecosystem. In light of one digital identity ecosystem, where a formalized database that comprises the identity data of the whole nation, biometric system is presumed to solve information silos. With the ability to integrate and centralize, it is argued that a biometric system would increase efficiency, especially within public sector services.
Before a further discussion on the improvement of efficiency, another factor that should be noticed is the ubiquity of biometrics in mundane life. The claim is that users’ familiarity and trust played a significant role when implementing a widely linked biometric ecosystem. In Deloitte’s (2018) Mobile Consumer Survey (see Figure 1 below), it showed that biometric recognition usage is soaring since 2016, especially fingerprint utilization, which has increased by 23%. Although these numbers are the individual use, such as unlocking phones with fingerprints, it still presented that the mass is willing to understand and embrace biometric technologies.
Moreover, in Ardalic’s (2018) study, she noted that Australians are overall untroubled and at ease to provide biometric information to government services such as Medicare and Australian Taxation Office, respectively, resulting in 81 percent and 75 percent of the total survey respondents. According to these numbers, it implies that Australians are in a ready position of adopting an Aadhaar-like biometric system.
To elaborate further on the point of efficiency, two different aspects of use could be examined. Firstly, is the acceleration of the speed. Drawn upon the example of what Kloppenburg & van der Ploeg (2018) mentioned, the application of biometrics in EU’s migration and border management best portraits the effectiveness of speeding up border pass through ones’ body features. Furthermore, giving consideration to India’s Aadhaar programme, with multiple biological features collected in the system, its immediate identity verification facilitates not only public sectors, such as welfare services for subsidies, but also could handle misappropriation within individuals and giving back more self-awareness to oneself.
Secondly, in the context of owning a national-scaled biometric system, it adds the point that it is simultaneously enhancing the capability of security. As advocates argued on the point that “the body does not lie” (Kloppenburg & van der Ploeg, 2018, p.3), and with a relatively unambiguous style of binary results, biometrics could provide higher accuracy in practice. Additionally, considering the previously mentioned requirements for biometrics, the trait of distinctiveness and permanence had made its supporters believed that it is more secure while having it in practice.
Opponents: Aadhaar-like system intervenes life
Comparing to the positive acceptance of the biometric identification system, opponents believed that the Australian Government and legislative are seemly lacking a proper plan and tactic toward this issue since many concerns still underlie.
Regardless of the termination of the ACIC’s Biometric Identification Services, there are still several biometric systems been continually implementing in Australia, for instance, the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability (NFBMC). According to The Guardian’s Josh Taylor, the NFBMC has also planned to include drivers’ licenses into its database, which will be utilizing a one-to-many Face Identification Service (FIS) model (Ardalic, 2018). This action once stirred up a mass turmoil, since the biggest concern would be the intrusion of such technology into one’s privacy and also the ambiguity of data ownership.
Uploading additional driver’s license data into the NFBMC system, Ardalic (2018) contends that this will raise another concern over the issue of unwarranted surveillance. Through biometrical means, such as facial scans, the system would be conducting a matching process that is unknown to the enrollees of the database. Therefore, considering in a greater context, an individual’s identity is at risk once they handed their biometrics to the system, which is doubtful whether biometric technology is enhancing the level of security. Moreover, the passivity of such biometric system also questioned the ownership of one’s data. That is, the enrollees would not know any process of the system but could only be passively informed once becoming a particular target. This could further link to the utmost concern of privacy breach.
In the same light, the world’s largest biometric database, India’s Aadhaar Programme had been criticized for its data leakage and privacy breach. In the article by The Tribune’s Rachna Khaira, it showed that Aadhaar also failed the privacy test since anyone could purchase over 1 billion of personal Aadhaar data through WhatsApp. In Australia’s context, there is no specific right nor detailed regulations that the current Privacy Act could guarantee under the use of biometrics. In addition, as the Australia Privacy Foundation contends that there is only organizational guidelines and codes instead of statuary protection, these biometrics should be regulated before implementation (Australian Privacy Foundation, 2011). The above data leakage revealed the negligence of security as well as the hidden crisis concerning biometric system’s policy.
Another concern lies in one of the policies that biometric systems assert, which is the gradual transformation of being made into mandatory. Albeit the system is initially optional, in India’s case, from the PBS NewsHour (2017), scholars mentioned that the authentication for daily bank transfer and mobile services required users to verify through Aadhaar. Moreover, as NDTV’s Manish Kumar reports the tragedy of children’s starvation due to no linkage between ration card to Aadhaar card, it reflected that this mandatory policy is creating an exclusion within the society. Arguably, it made one questioned whether biometric system like Aadhaar is intending to improve the efficiency of the identification process or is it discriminating people through another systematical way of policies.
Video discussed the reality of Aadhaar being mandatory in everyday life. Source: PBS News Hour, Youtube
Further Implications and recommendations …
Suppose that Australia is deploying a national biometric system, there will be some further implications that one should understand. In Ardalic’s (2018) study, she mentioned that there are multiple uses of biometric technologies in Australia, including not only facial and fingerprints but also DNA and voice. In order to fully implement these different forms of biometrics into one centralized system, the implication lay behind would be the users’ familiarity. Notably, users will be drawn on the topic of privacy as their expectation is related to the technical methods within biometric system (National Research Council, 2010). Thus, in favor of achieving the goal of integrating the Australian biometric system, more education to the public will be urgent in need.
Given the current status in Australia, incidents such as the ACIC’s cancellation of national BIS, one should take into consideration that strengthening the industrial infrastructure for biometric systems before creating an Aadhaar-like system. Likewise, establish legislations and regulations to ensure users a balanced information flow between biometric systems should be considered as well. Thus, Australia does not need to adopt a centralized biometric system at the moment.
Ardalic, J.(2018). Midas Touch: Consumer Implications of the Use of Smartphone Biometric Data Capturing Capabilities. Australian Communications Consumer Action Network. Sydney.
Australian Privacy Foundation. (2011). Biometrics. Retrieved from: https://privacy.org.au/policies/biometrics/
Deloitte. (2018). Mobile Consumer Survey 2018. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/au/mobile-consumer-survey.
Doran, M. (2018, June 15). Fingerprint and facial recognition project scrapped after budget blowouts. Retrieved from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-15/biometrics-project-scrapped-after-delays-and-budget-blowouts/9876068.
Jain, A. K., Bolle, R., & Pankanti, S. (Eds.). (2006). Biometrics: personal identification in networked society (Vol. 479). Springer Science & Business Media.
Kloppenburg, S., & van der Ploeg, I. (2018). Securing Identities: Biometric Technologies and the Enactment of Human Bodily Differences. Science as Culture, 1-20.
Nair, V. (2018). An eye for an I: recording biometrics and reconsidering identity in postcolonial India. Contemporary South Asia, 26(2), 143-156.
National Research Council. (2010). Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/12720.
Prabhakar, S., Pankanti, S., & Jain, A. K. (2003). Biometric recognition: Security and privacy concerns. IEEE security & privacy, (2), 33-42.
Unique Identification Authority of India. (2010). Strategy Overview: Creating a Unique Identity Number for Every Resident in India. New Delhi: Government of India
Hyperlinked Article Reference:
Khaira, R. (2018, January 5). Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details. Tribune News Service. Retrieved from: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/rs-500-10-minutes-and-you-have-access-to-billion-aadhaar-details/523361.html
Kumar, M. (2017, October 17). No Aadhaar, No Food? Girl, 11, Died ‘Begging For Rice’, Says Jharkhand Family. NDTV. Retrieved from: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/no-aadhaar-no-food-11-year-old-girl-died-begging-for-rice-says-jharkhand-family-1763863
Taylor, J. (2019, September 29). Plan for massive facial recognition database sparks privacy concerns. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/sep/29/plan-for-massive-facial-recognition-database-sparks-privacy-concerns
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