This essay examines large scale implementation of biometric technologies, using India’s Unique Identification program, Aadhaar, exploring the political and social aspects of the program. The essay will then explore various advantages and disadvantages of biometrics technologies being implemented in Australia. The first section will focus on the background of biometrics, and how it works. It is then followed by information the Aadhaar scheme. The arguments for the adoption of biometrics in Australia explored is the improvement of social problems, and socio-political problems such as national security, followed by the disadvantages which explore privacy issues of biometrics and the inaccurate identification due to system errors. Finally, evaluating whether Australia should adopt biometric identification.
Background on Biometrics
Biometric identification is a pattern recognition system that identifies a person on the basis from specific physiological or behavourial characteristics (Pankanti, 2003). One of the earlier forms of biometric data collection is hand printing as it was wide acceptable at the time but now there are forms of traits that can be used due to technological advancements (Duta, 2009). Common physiological traits that can be recognized are the face, fingerprints and iris. Behavioural traits can be handwriting, voice, and keystroke patterns and even gait recognition (Maguire, 2009).
How does it work?
The biometric system works in three phases:
- Enrolment – the input of an individual’s biometric information
- Verification – To verify ones identity using biometric data
- Identification – The user is either identified or not identified
What is Aadhaar?
Aadhaar can be considered one of the [biggest biometric projects in the world] with the Indian government aiming to collect biometric data from the whole population of India totalling to approximately 1.2 billion residents.The purpose of this program initiated by The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is to create;
- A robust system to eliminate duplicate and fake identities
- A system that facilitates verification and authentication
The UIDAI employ biometric devices that record the fingerprint and/or iris data of participant generating a unique 12 digit identification number (Unique Identifcation Authority of India, 2016).
By utilizing biometric identification technology the Indian government are able to implement governmental schemes such as social services including welfare and national surveillance (Jacobsen, 2012, pg 458).
Lets lay out the benefits of biometrics
The application of biometric data can greatly improve societal issues that arise from low standards of living. India has a dense homeless population that is not officially recorded for by Indian government and with the plan to improve governance India is attempting to tackle issues associated with homelessness (Jacobsen, 2012). Drawing upon the example of India’s biometric identification program, “Aadhaar”, by collecting the biometric data via facial scans and fingerprints from the homeless the government can identify the number of people who are in need of food, water and shelter. Therefore programs can be devised to provide the basic necessities in problem areas, and introduce welfare schemes that were not previously available to the homeless as they were not on official records.
In a similar light, as reported by the ABC, homelessness is on the rise in NSW. The Australian Bureau of Statistics have indicated that despite economic growth the number of people that are homeless have been increasing since 2011 and with NSW leading in the number of homeless in comparison to other territories of Australia. By implementing a similar system where biometric data using facial scans or finger printing are collected by government agents such as Centrelink, individuals affected by poor living standards can receive food coupons, by automated machines similar to an ATM using their fingerprint or facial scans that can be redeemed at local supermarkets.
The major driving force behind India’s biometric identification scheme is for national surveillance of its citizens by creating a system that accurately verifies and authenticates identification and an implication that can potentially arise is an increase of public safety by gaining the upper hand on illegal activity.
The United States has opened its doors and have agreed to share biometric data sharing with countries including Australia (Lockie, 2009). This possibly prevent criminal activity on a global scale, by freely sharing facial scans and fingerprints with Australia the possibility of avoiding large scale terrorist attacks by early detection of internationally known individuals attempting to enter the country.
The ugly side of biometrics
Biometric technologies have being implemented in China with surveillance cameras that are “equipped with facial recognition, body scanning, geo-tracking” (Carney, 2018) to completely monitor the daily activities of its citizens. The aim is to generate a ‘score’ reflecting an individual’s social standing that can ultimately affect quality of life.
“It will allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step” (Carney, 2018)
In the light of China’s new model of surveillance comes the aspect of privacy with regards to biometric technologies. It is the question of how secure is biometric information being stored and its potential to be accessed by other parties that are not affiliated with its intended parties.
What is the cloud?
“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction” (Chen, 2012, pg 647)
The advantages of mass storage utilizing cloud computing is the flexibility, mobility and cost savings. Companies that run cloud computing services must boast about their services being safe and reliable (Chen, 2012). However, there have been examples of cloud computing model being compromised and thus sparking concerns about security and privacy concern of sensitive information that is being stored on such services.
With regards to China’s large scale biometric model and its ability to determine your social reputation in real life, if any compromise were to occur and data on its citizens manipulated in a manner that can affect the wellbeing of an upstanding citizen.
Another disadvantage to biometric systems is the accuracy of these systems which can be questionable as there can be potential system errors. The biometric characteristic of an individual from the same person can be varied due to;
- Defective imaging conditions due to sensor noise or dry fingers
- Changes to the user’s physiological characteristics
- Ambient temperature
- The users interaction with the system such as finger placement
With the potential of system errors the reliance on biometric identification for welfare benefits have led to death of an Indian woman. Her biometric data generating her unique 12 digit Aadhaar identification number was linked to a person that has died resulting in the divergence of pension benefits.
Should Australia go ahead with biometrics?
- Societal problems can be improved
- National security and awareness can be improved
- Privacy issues concerning data collection and security
- Systemic errors and wrongful identification
The great debate, should Australia go ahead with biometric identification technologies? I have proposed that societal problems such as low living standard can be improved by biometrics, by using India’s initiative to tackle the basic needs of the homeless population by identifying the homeless population using biometric collection, this data set is valuable as the Indian government can establish dense problem areas and provide food, water and shelter.
Australia and in particular New South Wales has a growing homeless problem and by collecting biometric data of the homeless we can track their well-being, as well as implementing systems to efficiently receive food and water without worsening other problems associated with welfare i.e. misuse of benefits on non-essential purchases such as drugs and alcohol.
On the flip side, the concern about privacy and security of sensitive data such as data being compromised and potentially be used for illegal purposes, and systemic errors with biometric technology and the wrongful identification of users have lead to in some cases death due to not being able to receive welfare benefits. ss ss
I think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, the disadvantages discussed are problems that can be improved on with vigilant monitoring and on-going developmental processes to ensure the safety of sensitive information and the systemic errors that may arise.
- Chen, D., & Zhao, H. (2012, March). Data security and privacy protection issues in cloud computing. In Computer Science and Electronics Engineering (ICCSEE), 2012 International Conference on(Vol. 1, pp. 647-651). IEEE. DOI 10.1109/ICCSEE.2012.193
- Duta, N. (2009). A survey of biometric technology based on hand shape. Pattern Recognition, 42(11), 2797-2806. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.patcog.2009.02.007
- Jacobsen, E. K. (2012). Unique Identification: Inclusion and surveillance in the Indian biometric assemblage. Security dialogue, 43(5), 457-474 DOI: 10.1177/0967010612458336
- Lockie, M., 2009. USA joins biometric data sharing initiative. Biometric Technology Today. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0969-4765(09)70199-7
- Maguire, M. (2009). The birth of biometric security. Anthropology Today, 25(2), 9-14. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8322.2009.00654.x
- Prabhakar, S., Pankanti, S., & Jain, A. K. (2003). Biometric recognition: Security and privacy concerns. IEEE security & privacy, (2), 33-42.
- (2016). Biometric Devices – Unique Identification Authority of India | Government of India. Retrieved from https://uidai.gov.in/authentication/authentication-devices-documents/biometric-devices.html
- Wong, K. S., & Kim, M. H. (2012, April). Secure biometric-based authentication for cloud computing. In International Conference on Cloud Computing and Services Science(pp. 86-101). Springer, Cham.
- Bhatia, R., Stillman, S., Glasser, S., Hsu, H., Brody, R., & Filkins, D. et al. (2018). How India’s Welfare Revolution Is Starving Citizens. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/how-indias-welfare-revolution-is-starving-citizens
- Carney, Matthew (2018) “Leave No Dark Corner” Foreign Correspondent, ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-18/china-social-credit-a-model-citizen-in-a-digital-dictatorship/10200278
- Tatham, H. (2018). Recipe of respect for kitchen that’s been serving free meals for the homeless. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-11/staving-off-social-isolation-for-sydneys-homeless/10360414