Identification is an essential requirement to access several components of human ecosystem. It may be required for reasons such as to ensure security, check eligibility, maintain records,etc. As the world grows more and more digital, use of electronic means of identification such as biometrics sees a surge.
Last decade has brought unprecedented level convenience with the use of technology. Smartphones and the internet have eased up things to the level where long waiting time or complexities have been replaced by the click of a button. Use of biometrics has grown multi fold to secure devices, identity authentication for services and deploying security controls.
But that is not all; biometrics is driving identification revolution around the globe: a movement to give identity to people without one. This article discussed biometrics development in the last decade along with ID revolution and how they can be a driving force for human development.
Types of biometrics
There are several human biological and behavioral characteristics that can be used to identify them. They are so that are so uniquely patterned that probability to their repetition is extremely low. Some of these patterns are found naturally in or on human body such as fingerprints; pattern created by iris muscles;pattern of retina blood vessels, etc. Some patterns develop overtime, due to repeated actions that come into habit and takes place in perfect pattern, such as handwriting, typing rhythm, gait, etc. These patterns can be divided in two major categories: Physiological or Behavior.
Types of biometrics can also be divided in other categories depending on a different basis of categorization. For example touchless or touch based biometrics on the basis of physical contact required to perform recognition; dynamic and static biometrics on the basis of dynamics of the modality used, etc.
Face, fingerprint, palm print, hand geometry, iris, retina, etc. are some of the biometrics examples of physiological characteristics. Behavioural biometrics examples include gait patterns, keystroke dynamics, signature analysis, GUI interaction (e.g. on touch screen devices), etc. There are also unconventional biometrics modalities but they are mostly experimental.
Both physiological and behavioral biometric modalities are used in several applications, depending on the use case and application requirements.
Biometrics development in the last decade
Though the history of biometrics is more than 100 years old, efforts towards its automation did not take place until 1960s. Some major breakthroughs took place in 1970s including development of first operational fingerprint recognition algorithm, first prototype of speaker recognition and rise of facial recognition technology. A detailed timeline for the history of biometrics can be found here.
Until the end of 20th century, biometrics had become a matured technology and had been deployed in a many identification, authentication and access control applications. However, it was yet to witness some phenomenal events as it entered 21st century. Now as we enter the third decade of the century, it is worth taking a glimpse on major biometric events took place in last decade.
U.S. national security agency used fingerprint biometrics to identify 9/11 suspects
In the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, law enforcement agencies in 2010 collected fingerprints from a location believed to be the planning site of the attacks. These prints were later matched to a GITMO detainee. The agencies also matched fingerprints collected from other locations in connection with the attacks. Fingerprint matching was one of the major turning points in 9/11 investigation.
Voice recognition reaches consumer electronics through virtual assistants
In 2011, Apple introduced Siri, a digital virtual assistant across its product line that used iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, macOS, and tvOS operating systems.This virtual assistant could receive a user’s voice commands and perform actions, answer questions and search information. Siri made use of advanced machine learning technologies to function. Original release of the digital assistant received mixed reviews. However, it is still used in Apple products as of 2020, and has improved significantly since the original release.
After Apple’s virtual assistant, other OS/device manufacturers have also introduced virtual assistants such as Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, etc. There are many other smaller app based start-ups offering similar applications.
Apple brings fingerprint recognition to phones
In 2013, Apple stepped up to improve traditional PIN based authentication on its mobile devices and introduced iPhone 5s with an inbuilt fingerprint sensor. This fingerprint sensor could be used to unlock phone and authenticate purchases for Apple’s digital content and apps. Initially it received mixed reviews, however, soon it became unimaginably popular. Its popularity and inspired other mobile hardware and software manufacturers to offer similar capabilities in their devices.
Ultra-compact fingerprint hardware
As popularity and acceptance of biometric authentication grew in consumer electronics, manufacturers geared up for making highly compact biometric fingerprint sensors and other components. As mobile devices advance in terms of hardware and software specifications, they get increasingly compacter; this pushes hardware manufactures to design super compact components for biometric hardware.
Need of compact hardware is not limited to mobile devices, now with to inception of biometric payment cards, fingerprint hardware manufacturers have already introduced sensors that can be embedded into 0.76 mm thickness, the standard thickness of a payment card.
2014 – 2020
Rise of mobile biometrics
Apple iPhone 5s’ launch and success drove saw unprecedented rise in biometrics on mobile phones. Till 2020, manufacturers had experimented with almost everything. Devices were launched with face recognition, iris recognition, under-display fingerprint sensors, ultrasonic sensors and whatnot.
Behavioral biometrics creeps in
Behavioral biometrics is used as an identification / continuous authentication mechanism. It’s profile shows people interact with digital devices and applications. It works passively in the background, and analyses several parameters, making account credentials impossible to steal or duplicate. Its use in the last decade has increased dramatically.Security experts are using this technology for making sure that their services stay secure, even if someone is able to get through the initial authentication barriers with stolen identifications.
For example, a mobile banking application may use PIN / password / biometrics for letting a user in. However, once logged in, there is no way to ensure that the user is actually the authorized for the access or an imposter. Login prompts setup with passwords / biometrics only works as an authentication barrier and once thorough the process, there is no way to check the authenticity of the session. Behavioral biometrics solves this problem and makes a profile out of different parameters on how a user has been using his/her device. If anomalies are found, user access is barred.
Voice recognition meets consumer IoT
Have you started to feel that things are becoming more talkative and intelligent lately? We have smart speakers, smart TV, smart vacuum cleaner, smart refrigerator even smart oven that can connect to a smart home hub and you just need to place a voice command to make them work. You can ask question, seek information, fix schedule, change settings, and even authenticate payments with your voice. It has become possible because due to the integration of voice biometrics with consumer IoT solutions.
Use of machine learning and AI
Biometric identifiers are subject to change due to a variety of factors such as environment, age, disease, friction, etc. AI and machine learning can take these changes into account to make future decisions, which helps biometric systems improve performance and reliability.
In the last decade, use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in biometrics has been an increasing trend, which in set to make biometric systems more efficient than ever. As the name implies, machine learning techniques allows systems to learn from the variation below a threshold and take these variation into account while performing future operations such as decision making.
NIST study boosts confidence in face recognition
In a study published in 2018, NIST mentioned that facial recognition made substantial gains in terms of accuracy. The study found that 0.2% of searches, in a database of 26.6 m photos, failed to match the correct image, compared with a 4% failure rate in 2014. It’s a 20x improvement over four years.
Biometric security technology
Once limited to government mass surveillance applications, face recognition is now coming to smart home security devices. There are smart doorbells that can identify a visitor and send alerts on your phone. Fingerprint door locks are now a commonplace and people have started putting trust on biometric security.
Biometric security technology is one of the areas of biometrics that developed considerably in the last decade. Biometrics has been extensively deployed for physical security, information security and surveillance application throughout the second decade of this century and this trend is expected to continue.
Biometrics development: ID revolution
If you are asked to single out the most significant achievements of biometrics development in the last decade, what would it be? Mobile biometrics? Biometrics in IoT? Or biometric KYC enabled banks? It would probably be an aspect that has left a significant impact on your life. But what if there is something that has ability to improve lives of billions around the globe and not just the mobile phone owners or banking customers? That is ID revolution, a movement to bring the power of identity to masses.
ID revolution may not look like a revolution superficially. It is simply a digital / biometric approach of establishing identity of the people. But why is it revolutionary, we will come to that in a minute.
Why is Identity important?
When it comes to proving your identity, you know the drill. Show a government issued ID such as a driving licence or a passport. But would you believe that not everyone has the luxury of having an ID. Think of a remotest place in Africa where people do not even have access to electricity, let alone identity cards. Imagine a refugee from a war-torn country without anything to prove who he/she is. What if these people could have an ID that does not depend on any document or is limited by geographical borders?
ID cards are still used as a handy tool for identity verification; however, they are neither the best way to prove your identity nor as handy as publicized. You have to carry them,they are easy to counterfeit, pass or share, and if lost, you lose your identity and have to have it reissued.
Due to the several shortcomings, ID cards are no more a reliable proof of identity. They now only serve as an identity claim as their validity has to be checked with the issuing authority, which is often a cumbersome process.
What is ID / identification revolution?
As we discussed in the beginning, identification is an essential requirement for accessing different components of human ecosystem. From government, community, society to personal level, people have to prove / authenticate their identity several times. Even your locked phone would not let you in unless you prove who you are.
In the last decade, the scale at which human identification efforts have taken place in the world is no less than a revolution. India’s Aadhaar scheme registered more than 1.2 billion people with biometrics, ID4Africa movement is on its way to develop robust and responsible ID ecosystems across the Africa, similar efforts have taken place in other countries such as Brazil, Nigeria, Ethiopia, etc.Internet and digital technology enabled world requires an identity that can be quickly verified without any friction or external artefact involved, which can be easily achieved with biometrics.
Identification for development
Can an efficient and accurate identification approach lead to social and economic development? The answer is yes. Large scale welfare and development programs that affect human, social and economic aspects of masses, require an efficient and accurate identification to reach the target population. Digital identification approaches (such as biometrics) can help us achieve these objectives. The countries that have implemented digital / biometric identification approaches have begun to experience its positive outcomes.
According to Alan Gelb and Anna Diofasi Metz, the author of Identity Revolution, nearly 600 million children around the world live unidentified as they do not have any identity. In their book, authors shed light on the importance of identification for development. How people can have access to different services, banking, elections and almost everything that needs to know you before letting you in.
Acknowledging the power of identification, an identification revolution is already taking place throughout the world, which has the potential to bring much needed economic and social change.
Human identification has been an important requirement since the dawn of civilization. Identification of beneficiaries, outlaws, owners, has been as important as it is today. However, in today’s high paced digital world, identity verification cannot wait, and to make it fast and efficient, digital identification approaches such as biometrics is used.
In 21st century, biometrics has secured its place in civil identification applications. Once stigmatized as criminals’ identification method and shelled with conspiracy theories, biometrics has now come to our pockets. It has also induced an “identification revolution” throughout the world, a movement that aims to give identity to people who still deprived it. Biometrics development in the last decade has been phenomenal and this trend is expected to continue for years to come.