Is it time for Australia to launch a biometric identification system?

Image: Deepti Juturu, Flickr, All rights reserved.

As Zhang and Qiu (2010, p128) said, biometric technologies seem to bring us a more accurate, reliable, effective and convenient living environment, this essay will argue that biometric identification should be applied in Australia. However, although some argue that biometric technology may cause misidentification, biometric identification preserves our information and doubles the security. It reduces the risks of fraud and enhances the speed of tracing suspects as biometric characteristics are considered to be unique, and it makes lives more comfortable as it allows us to pay the bills by only verifying our biometric information. Therefore, based on the origin of biometric identification and the history of it in China, this essay will discuss some supporting and dissenting voices of biometric identification to argue why it should be applied in Australia, with the reference to Chinese biometric identification system, research articles and real-life examples. The implication of having a biometric identification system will also be given.

Historical overview of Biometric Identification

Biometrics is considered as a function to identify and reliably confirm citizens’ identities based on their physiological or behavioural characteristics such as fingerprints and facial recognition. (Sutrop, 2010, p102). The body measurement system of Alphonse Bertillon was introduced in the early 1870s, and it was used for identifying prisoners until 1920s (Wayman et al., 2005, p2). In the 1880s, the identification of fingerprint and facial measurements was proposed. Later, until the 1960s, the biometric identification had a further development, and as a result, digital signal processing techniques were able to work in automating human identification (Wayman et al., 2015, p2).

Biometric identification was first applied in China in 1989, which the footage of surveillance cameras helped security identify the activists who had joined the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 (Hvistendahl, 2012, p1448). In 2003, China has launched the second-generation Resident Identity Card with inalterable 18 digits and demographics (photograph, name, age, gender and address) for authentication and data collection since the first-generation was introduced in 1985 (Brown, 2008, p57). Until 2012, China ID cards applied in biometric technology for enhancing accessing government services, buying properties or other activities, as PR Newswire reported.

A Chinese girl who is scanning her fingerprints when applying a new China Resident Identity Card.
A Chinese girl who is scanning her fingerprints when applying for a new China Resident Identity Card. Image: Xinhua, all rights reserved.

Why it should

The biometric identification system should be applied in Australia as the biometric technology like fingerprints can protect our personal details. Yeates’ article in the Sydney Morning Herald mentioned the improved security had reduced in-person card fraud which led to a 14% increase on online transaction fraud in that year. The article has also mentioned that biometric authentication such as fingerprints would be encouraged in order to make the online shopping more secured. As De Zhi & Suandi noted (2015, p1), it is not safe to merely require a smartcard for the verification process in today’s society. However, fingerprint access will make the system highly secured as fingerprints are unique, and it requires oneself to be present to identity fingerprints (De Zhi & Suandi, 2015, p1).

Similarly, registering fingerprints as a database can not only reduce the risk of fraud but also raise the efficiency of detecting criminals. An article from PR Newswire has also mentioned, that registering fingerprints in China ID Card allows banks in China to provide a biometric audit trail and then to fend off the criminals and teller fraud. As Alterman (2003, p141) noted, the fingerprint is the most reliable technology and will identify oneself who is on a watch list in nearly 100%. And this proves how accurate the biometric technology is in identification and verification. The biometric identification system can always bind to the bank cards, which allows the police to detect the suspects more easily, and it enhances the safety of personal information, making suspects more difficult to filch the information at the same time.

ATMs of Bank of China Hong Kong use fingerprint identification to verify customers’ information.
ATMs of Bank of China Hong Kong use fingerprint identification to verify customers’ information.          Image: David Wong, All rights reserved.

Moreover, linking biometric identification, such as face recognition on the payment application also brings us easier lives and convenience. Take the payment application, Alipay in China as an example; citizens can link their Resident ID Card and phone numbers to it, in order to achieve making a payment by only scanning their face when in offline stores. An article from Nikkei Asia said that the face-scan payment can be completed without even a phone and makes citizens smoothly pass through ticket gates during rush hours. That is, the biometric identification seems to be less fallible and allows us to have a faster checkout (Alterman, 2003, p139) as it enables us to pay without doing any action and eliminates the annoyance of queuing up for a long time.


Video showing how Chinese citizens use face recognition to pay bills.

Some dissenting Voices

It seems that biometric identification has been able to be successfully applied in the payment application and help the lives more convenient. However, some think that using face recognition in an outdoor environment or large pose variation is still immature and is remain an unsolved problem (Ding & Fang, 2004, p47). Because of immature technology, biometric identification may lead to discrimination and misidentification.

Face recognition machine is detecting different races’ people’s faces.
Face recognition is detecting different races’ people’s faces.
Image: ABC News, All rights reserved.

For instance, a human rights commissioner mentioned by an article of ABC news said that face recognition would be much less accurate if someone has darker skin and that this technology has a high risk of misidentification when using it in policing or law enforcement. The article has also pointed out that if people with darker skin are underrepresented in benchmark datasets, face recognition may still fail in identifying black people even though it can rely on machine-learning. Thus, especially in Australia, such a multi-cultural country, even though launching Resident ID Cards may be able to create a demographic database for national security, discrimination is also a problem that needs to be considered.

What’s more, the lack of regulation of protecting our biometric information can also lead to a significant privacy concern for biometric identification. Today, our biometric data is stored electronically by a large centralized system such as immigration and border control system, which makes everyone be able to access anywhere and makes it harder to control and verify (Cavoukain et al., 2010, p15). This means that our biometric information can be easily filched without our knowledge since biometric characteristics are visible (Prabhakar et al., 2003, p41). Consequently, this may lead to privacy leakage. For instance, one article from South China Morning Post reported that a “smart community” app which collects facial images and China Resident ID Cards in a community in China left the information unencrypted, which allows everyone to see other citizens’ personal details without any permission. This shows that using biometric identification will not be on the right track and will be insecure if it is not yet regulated.

A student is using face recognition to entry her university.
A student is using face recognition to entry her university.
Image: Simon Song, All rights reserved.

Possible Implication for Internet Users

Biometric identification may cause some implications for ordinary internet users if it is applied in Australia. Biometric recognition allows information technology experts to integrate biometrics into their websites, giving marketers chances to collect internet users’ data (Gilmore & Erdem, 2008, p26). That is, biometric identification for internet users would be commercialised and marketers would be able to know users’ specific tastes and preferences through biometric technology (Gilmore & Erdem, 2008, p26).

A bit of a Recap & Conclusion

In conclusion, it seems like it is more advantageous and beneficial to apply a biometric identification system or launch a Resident Identity Card with biometric information in Australia than not to. Biometric information brings us double assurance for our security. It does better in protecting citizens’ personal details as it is unique and irreplaceable. It also enhances efficiency. It allows the police and government to trace all kinds of fraud more accurately and to detect suspects rapidly. Besides, applying biometric technology in daily life makes us convenient. We do not have to fill in the annoying forms and what we do is just simply to be recognized by the biometric recognizers. On the other perspectives, biometric technology is considered as an immature technology which may lead to misidentification or discrimination. And it may also threaten our privacy. Our biometric information is collected in a large system with weak regulation, which may have a risk of information stealing. However, if the regulation of managing biometric information can be improved, such as to narrow the range of management, biometric identification will become a reliable application for Australians.

Reference List

Alterman, A. (2003). “A piece of yourself”: Ethical issues in biometric identification. Ethics and Information Technology, 5(3), 139-150. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:ETIN.0000006918.22060.1f

Brown, C. L. (2008). China’s second-generation national identity card: Merging culture, industry and technology. In C. Bennett & D. Lyon. (Eds.), Playing the Identity Card: Surveillance, Security and Identification in Global Perspective (pp. 57-74). London: Routledge

Cavoukian, A., Snijder, M., Stoianov, A. & Chibba, M. (2010). Privacy and Biometrics for Authentication Purposes: A Discussion of Untraceable Biometrics and Biometric encryption. In A. Kumar & D. Zhang (Eds), Ethics and Policy of Biometrics (pp. 14-22). Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer

Das, S. (2020, February 4). Is facial recognition technology worse at identifying darker-skinned faces than lighter ones? ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-04/fact-check-facial-recognition-darker-skin/11781192?nw=0

De Zhi, V. T. & Suandi, S. A. (2015). FingerCode for Identity Verification Using Fingerprint and Smart Card. 2015 10th Asian Control Conference (ASCC), 1-6. doi: 10.1109/ASCC.2015.7244877.

Ding, X. & Fang, C. (2004). Discussions on Some Problems in Face Recognition. In S. Z. Li, J. Lai, T. Tan, G. Feng & Y. Wang. (Eds), Advances in Biometric Person Authentication (pp47-56). Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer

Fingerprint readers with Digital Persona silicon-based sensors certified for china resident identity card: Two leading manufacturers of fingerprint readers incorporating Touch Chip TCS1 sensors into their solutions. (2014, Jan 07). PR Newswire. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/docview/1474823582?accountid=14757

Gilmore, W. & Erdem, S. A. (2008). The Future of Online Internet Marketing: A solution To Behavioral Marketing Using Biometrics. Journal of Business & Economics Research, 6(2), 23-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.19030/jber.v6i2.2387

Hvistendahl, M. (2012). China’s Sharp Focus on Biometrics. Science, 337(6101), 1448-1449. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.337.6101.1448

Kawakami, T. & Hinata, Y. (2019, October 26). Pay with your face: 100m Chinese switch from smartphones. Nikkei Asia. Retrieved from https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/China-tech/Pay-with-your-face-100m-Chinese-switch-from-smartphones

Prabhakar, S., Pankanti, S. & Jain, A. K. (2003). Biometric recognition: security and privacy concerns. IEEE Security & Privacy, 1(2), 33-42. doi: 10.1109/MSECP.2003.1193209.

Shen, X. (2020, October 8). Facial recognition data leaks are rampant in China as Covid-19 pushes wider use of the technology. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/abacus/tech/article/3104512/facial-recognition-data-leaks-rampant-across-china-covid-19-pushes

Sutrop, M. (2010). Ethical Issues in Governing Biometric Technologies. In A. Kumar & D. Zhang (Eds.), Ethics and Policy of Biometrics (pp. 102-114). Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer

Wayman, J., Jain, A., Maltoni, D., & Maio, D. (2005). An Introduction to Biometric Authentication Systems. In J. Wayman, A. Jain, D. Maltoni & D. Maio (Eds.), Biometric Systems: Technology, Design and Performance Evaluation (pp 1-20). London: Springer

Yeates, C. (2018, August 22). Fingerprint checks touted as online card fraud surges. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/finger-print-checks-touted-as-online-card-fraud-surges-20180821-p4zytm.html

Zhang, X. & Qiu, R. (2010). The Status Quo and Ethical Governance in Biometric in Mainland China. In Kumar, A & Zhang, D (Eds.), Ethics and Policy of Biometrics (pp. 127-137). Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer

Multimedia reference list

CGTN (2017, September 2). Alipay launches world’s first commercial ‘Pay with face’ kiosk. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4P0zt4cnmU&feature=youtu.be

Juturu, Deepti. (2017). Digital fingerprint security concept, binary digits background. Flickr. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/152552161@N02/35732527301/in/photolist-WryxsV-88NwAv-6e4ry2-5DFrdm-5DFqQq-5DFqD5-5DFr7Q-5DB9vp-fmqgiF-FSsD6a-5DFqqs-s9QNgc-5DB8Dg-5DB9mM-SMoomw-9nkxgW-5DFqZh-5DFr4C-eURfMu-UbuHxR-fPuTys-7RsGcJ-58ViPc-oSUMCJ-2gRSVVu-bE2f8J-e97Vph-2bik1ck-nw8NXx-oFJrkJ-oYbX4s-2jZ2Wfy-2i9eq88-oFJeSW-oXXhXc-nQpi26-qoXpzp-27NE2py-h4DPhF-81wN9v-oWbV5U-oFJEXc-oXXitT-oXXfuM-7Rsafd-oFJrS5-oFJoaA-oFJduA-oYbXCd-nNyJXj

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Wong, D. (2018). South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/economy/article/2131248/hong-kong-lender-banking-finger-veins-being-better-faces-atm

Xinhua. (2013). China Daily. Retrieved from http://www.china.org.cn/china/2013-08/15/content_29722437.htm

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About Xiaohan Xu 2 Articles
Hii I am Xiaohan (Claira) Xu from USYD. I'm currently majoring in Digital Cultures and my minor is Japanese Cultures!! Please definitely share your thoughts with me if you're also interested in these two areas!! Know more about me through https://twitter.com/0xuxiaohan0