Since the inception of human civilization, civil identification has always been a part of it in some form. As civilization advanced, need of an authentic civil identification method were also felt. In modern society, civil identification is required to serve government benefits, voter identification, identification of criminals, etc. The governments around the world spend a lot of money to serve facilities and services, so they wants to make sure that only eligible people have access to it. This can be made possible only with dependable method of civil identification.
This article discusses advantage of biometrics for civil identification over ID based approach and its losing relevance in civil identification needs in today’s world.
Civil identification with ID cards: where did it go wrong?
Printed IDs have been around for quite a while and we have been doing great with them. They are small enough to be carried in your wallet, come printed with security features, have all your details, etc., and you can flaunt them should the need arise. However, people never realized that they have been compelled to carry something that may not serve much purpose in our daily life. If you live in a peaceful country with low crime rate and absence of civil disturbance, ID cards just add up to the list of content of your wallet, nothing else. If your ID is lost, it poses risk of misuse and going through the red tapes of getting it reissued can be overwhelming.
IDs, badges or other forms of identity documents are still relevant in many countries (even the developed ones) across the world as a proof of identity. For example, if a police officer finds someone suspicious at a public place, the first thing he will ask for would be a government issued ID. The verifying authority (the police officer in this case) may look for some security features on the card to make sure the ID is not counterfeited.
Counterfeiting ID cards is as easy as child’s play
Printed plastic IDs have a major shortcoming: they are extremely easy to forge. High quality printing and computer based editing is now available to all and it does not require much skills to replicate an ID. Some printed IDs make use of security features like 3D holograms, security thread, complex patterns (which are found on currency notes as well), embossed printing, etc. These security features might sound reassuring but the reality is that all of these printing methods are available at a price and fraudsters can leverage them to forge ID cards.
Card based identification approach seems so familiar that people do not bother to imagine any other approach over it. If you lose our ID card, you would probably blame yourself and not the person who invented it. Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”, unless people are showed better identification approaches, they would seek comfort in the familiarity of traditional identification, no matter how many shortcomings it has.
Identity theft is a blooming business
Digitalization and connectivity have made our lives easy, but it has also elevated the risk of identity theft via the internet. Now billions of identities can be stored in digital forms and transferred over the internet. Security of these databases is constantly challenged by hackers who try to steal them and if they succeed, billions of people come under the threat of identity fraud. Once identity information is stolen, it is sold to cybercriminals in bulk often on websites and forums in the dark web. Value of such information is only high as long as breach has not been discovered and countermeasures have not been taken.
Unfortunately, not all the incidents of identity theft can be discovered in time. When stolen in electric form, owner of the ID may remain unaware until the crime takes place. Even lost ID cards in their physical form may not be instantly discovered as the owner may be unaware about the loss, specially when the lost ID card was used rarely. Even in the reported cases of IDs, criminals are usually in a race against the clock since banks and customers rush to deactivate accounts once a breach or loss has been discovered. Stolen IDs are usually not used by the ID hijackers directly rather they are sold to fraudsters who are involved in committing such crimes.
Identity data related theft and fraud are only the subset of overall data stealing crimes, it extends to financial cards, healthcare, credit history and other information that can be misused by fraudsters. For example, a serious breach of the credit history bureau Equifax, which resulted in the disclosure of confidential personal information of 143 million Americans, including numbers and social security addresses. This, of course, threatens clients with the theft of their personal data. The information of the company’s customers might be sold online, while attackers may try to access accounts or receive credit cards using the information of their victims.
Unfortunately, such data security violations are becoming commonplace. In fact, over the past few years, there have been a number of resonant break-ins, including Target, Yahoo, Sony and even some US government offices.
Biometric for civil identification: an increasing trend around the world
Millions of people across the globe suffer the consequences of identity theft every year. These stolen identities are used in opening bank accounts and committing the fraud or other financial crimes. They can also be used in obtaining other government documents like passport or driver’s licence. Consequences of identity theft can be worse than what is immediately apparent. Fraudsters can even get loans, government aid, and student aid in your name, hijack bank accounts and drain all your money. It incurs huge losses to people as well as businesses. On the other hand, law enforcement agencies also have to put people and resources to investigate such cases and it cost governments heavily. Having acknowledged the pitfalls of traditional identification methods, governments across the world are now looking at biometrics to overhaul civil identification approach.
Recent surge in the applications of biometric technology have made them more apparent than ever. This is the technology that enables you to unlock phones with face and doors with fingerprints. Biometric applications may have become more apparent in recent years; the technology itself is quite old though. Along with several other identification and authentication applications, biometrics is also replacing traditional civil identification approaches that are still prevalent in many parts of the world.
Traditionally, civil identification is done using cards (e.g. driving licence), document (e.g. passport) or other forms of artefacts that have your details printed on them. These methods are falling behind in serving present day civil identification needs. Inadequacies and inefficiencies associated with ID cards have paved the way to implementation of biometrics for civil identification and authentication.
Biometrics as a civil ID eliminates the need of any external artifact like cards or badges to prove an individual’s identity. It eliminates a lot of trouble that come in the form of lost or misplaced ID cards, denied access due to lost or forgotten IDs, etc. It has been established long ago that a person’s anatomical and behavioral characteristics are unique enough to have them distinguished from the others.
No wonder biometric for civil identification is an increasing trend and it is surprisingly more evident in developing economies than the developed ones. These countries have started using or planning to implement biometrics as civil identity to serve various government benefits and services like welfare, aid, food, subsidies, etc. These countries have taken biometric route for civil identification and to fix the loopholes of card based identification. Fake cards and their copies are commonly used to show facilities served and funds released on papers, while it might actually be guzzled by the corrupt system.
Benefits of biometric civil ID
Biometrics enables identification of individuals or verification of their identity without leaving any room for manipulation. It is very important that services and benefits provided by the government of a country reach people entitled for them without the possibility of manipulation en route. But that is not all, there are many benefits of using biometrics as civil ID.
Facilitation of services and curbing corruption
Civil registrations with citizens’ biometrics like fingerprints or iris make sure that only eligible people have access to benefits and services facilitated by the government. Civil fingerprint authentication leaves a strong proof that services or benefits were availed only by an eligible individual. It helps stop corruption, which in one of the major problems in developing economies.
Identity authentication can be a cumbersome process, specially in government outfits where a large number of people need to be authenticated. With biometrics, individual authentication takes not more than a second and people can be processed faster. When government uses biometric systems for identity authentication, private outfits too follow the trend as it is the government they have to comply with, not the other way around.
Law enforcement is one of the important government departments that helps maintain the civil order. Law enforcement agencies protect law abiding citizens from criminals and other anti-social elements. With biometrics, identification of criminals and terrorists can be done with much greater efficiency. AFIS (Large Scale Fingerprint Identification Systems) are commonly used by the police and other law enforcement agencies to process and store criminal records. Law enforcement biometrics help governments serve their citizens better.
Voter registration and identification
Democracy has proved to be the most successful type of the system in which each citizen can contribute to form the government. Citizens’ contribution to form their government is reflected by a fair electoral process. Unfortunately elections are not as fair as they should be, specially in developing and under-developed countries. Fake voter identity and voting in someone else’s name is a very common phenomenon in many countries around the world. The problem lies in the paper based electoral process, in which printed IDs are used for voter identification and registration. With the use of biometrics for voter registration and identification, fake voting becomes a thing of past as voter identification is done with their biometric characteristics instead of the printed cards they carry.
Identification of expats and other resident types
While identification of citizens or permanent residents can be the primary concerns when it comes to the civil identification, there may be other resident types that need to be in identified state to ensure social order as well as national security. People of foreign origin may try to enter a country as immigrants, temporary residents, workers, etc. To make sure that these people do not pose threat to the integrity, national or civil security of the country, they need to be identified. Historically, fake ID cards and passports have been used for illegally crossing the international borders, which still is a problem. However, this issue is consistently diminishing with the rise of biometric identification of immigrants and other travellers crossing the international borders.
For example, Ecuador’s government is providing its refugee population with Ecuadorian ID cards to facilitate access to jobs, banking, and other services by entering their personal data, including fingerprints, into the country’s Civil Registry.
Biometrics for civil identification: common fears and misconceptions
When it comes to biometrics for civil identification, it is probably most criticized identification technology. People often turn wary of collection of their biometrics due to media and privacy advocates’ outcry for such collection. Unfounded conspiracy theories often emerge, in which government organized mass surveillance being the most common of all. Despite all the concerns associated with biometrics, there is no other technology for human identification as powerful and efficient as biometrics. Human identification on the basis of ID cards has become extremely insecure, 9/11 is one of the examples in which gaining access with fake IDs led to disastrous consequences.
Educating people about the technology and explaining benefits of such collection can help increase awareness and acceptance among the people.
Are biometric identification methods 100% safe? The short answer is no, however, they are way securer than other identification methods and are extremely hard to fool. Like all other systems, biometrics too has its limitations. There have been multiple instances in which fraudsters and security researchers were able to fool biometric systems using spoofs. Fingerprint replicas made out of silicone or similar material have fooled fingerprint recognition systems, while photographs, videos clips and even 3D masks have been used to fool facial recognition systems. Fortunately, present day biometric systems come with anti-spoofing tech and can differential between replica and live finger.
In present day technology powered world, civil identification with ID cards creates more problems than it solves. Identity theft is a very common side effect when leveraging cards of civil identification. Every year millions of people suffer the consequences of identity theft. Biometrics has showed a lot of potential in recent years and civil identification with biometrics can be the solution of all the problems associated with ID card based civil identification.