Yes or No? Should Australia adopt biometric identification?

biometric
"biometrics" by pictalogue, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Introduction

With the development of the progress of science and technology, the biometric system is gaining increasing attention, and many countries have also begun to use biometric identification systems. (Rao, 2019) But is biometrics applicable to Australia? This paper provides a brief overview of the history of biometric systems, and critically analyzes the advantages and risks of biometric system application in Australia with the reference of India’s own biometric system, Aadhaar. Then it concludes that the Australian application of biometric identification technology is feasible. However, the Australian government needs to improve laws to protect privacy and make more effort to reduce discrimination concerns.

A Brief History of Biometric Identification System.

Biometrics identifies an individual by measuring their unique physical or behavioral characteristics. Common biometrics include fingerprints, palm geometry, Iris, and facial features. (Liu & Silverman, 2001)

Early biometric identification was used to identify criminals by the police. (Chaudhari, Pawar & Deore, 2013)

  • In the 1890s in Paris, a policeman, named Alphonse Bertillon, developed a method of identifying repeat offenders.
  • Also, during the 1890s, the police in India began to use fingerprints to identify criminals.
  • In 1903, the New York State Prison began its first use of fingerprints identification for convicts.

Later, biometric identification systems were not merely used by the police. (Chaudhari, Pawar & Deore, 2013)

  • In 1904, the use of fingerprints first began in the Leavenworth Federal Department in the United States.
  • During the next 25 years, more and more law enforcement agencies were using fingerprints as a method of identification, and biometric identification became more prevalent.

Biometric in India

There are increasing numbers of biometric techniques used by a human being. Some countries, such as India, have already had their own biometric systems. In 2009, the government of India launched the Aadhaar biometric identification, which aimed for the creation of a central database to store biometric information for every resident in India. This innovative technology improved security and solved the crisis problem of national identity. (Rao, 2019) India’s use of biometrics for identity recognition is not an isolated example – many countries are currently experimenting with biometric systems. However, Australia does not have a biometric system like Aadhaar.

So is that system will work well in the context of Australia?

The YES argument

1, Higher Security

As Gelb and Clark argue, the biometric techniques offer the most accurate tool available for identification and authentication. (Gelb & Clark, 2013) Biometric recognizing individuals based on their physical or behavioral characteristics—the structure of the face, the geometrics of the hand, the ridges of a fingerprint, and more authentic ways also require an eye scan. Every person carries multiple human traits that are a unique form of personal identification. Biometric authentication systems are therefore more secure than the traditional way of presenting paper documents or passwords.

biometric
“Customer drops off checked bag using facial recognition option” by DeltaNewsHub, licensed under CC BY 2.0

In Australia, the Australian Federal Police, Department of Foreign Affairs implemented Facial Verification Service (FVS) in 2016 to identify unknown individuals by allowing law enforcement agencies to share facial images of citizens, as part of an effort to reduce cross-border criminal activities. Moreover, DIBP (Department of Immigration and Border Protection of Australia) expects annual passenger traffic will grow to 50 million in the next four years. The biometric techniques will accelerate the interaction between people and make the process more cost-effective. Therefore, the use of biometric identification is likely to reduce criminal activities and further boosting tourism industry in Australia. (NEC, n.d)

2,Governing national program

Biometric identification can be applied to national governance systems. Biometric recognition based on human iris patterns is well suited for access control applications and provides powerful security. (E. Chirchi, Waghmare&Chirchi, 2011)

In India, Iris is considered as a biometric method to facilitate pension allocation.

Pension distribution in India’s Andhra Pradesh state. Image from iritech.com, all rights reserved.

As a report, India’s pension sector is losing Rs 1.2 crore a year because of payments to suspected fake beneficiaries. The source said that 5% to 7% of the claimants were suspected to be fake, but they were barely checked by any department. (Gelb & Clark, 2013) In March 2015, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh introduced an IRIS based identity management solution developed by IriTech.

In Australia, while Australia’s pension system is outstanding, it is also pressed for changes. Although everyone has a fund, many people have ended up with more, which means there are unnecessary pension costs. Government censors identified 10 million duplicate accounts that had accumulated 2.6 billion in unnecessary fees. (Burgess, 2020) Hence, applying biometric identification can help to ensure there are no duplicate accounts, and improve the pension system in Australia.

The ‘NO’ Argument

1, Privacy Risks

The first concern is the privacy risks. If biological scans become common, they could raise a whole new area of privacy issues. For example, biometrics does raise the systematic privacy concerns of covert recognition. Biometrics are not secret. It is possible to obtain a biometric sample, such as capturing a person’s face without his/her knowledge. Facial recognition can take advantage of existing surveillance systems, such as surveillance cameras or closed-circuit television (CCTV).

“CCTV” by Alan Cleaver, licensed under CC BY 2.0

This allows covert recognition of people previously registered. Therefore, those who wish to remain anonymous in any given situation can be deprived of their privacy by biometrics. However, Australia lacks a constitutional or statutory Bill of Rights at the federal level. According to the Privacy Act 1988, the Australian government has not yet introduced a specific law to protect the biometric privacy of residents, and it does not provide an enforceable right to privacy.

Moreover, Australians’ right to object unwanted divulging of personal information is limited. Australia’s Court of Appeal does not at present recognize any civil ground of invasion of privacy, although the High Court has left open the possibility of a civil ground of action. (Goggin et al., 2017) 

2,Discrimination and exclusion

The potential of exclusion and the risk of discrimination due to the algorithmic bias is also a weak point in biometric systems. For example, Joy Buolamwini shared with us her experience of being discriminated against by color by the facial recognition system on TED.

According to Jarratt, there will be a massive database collected by a company or platform, and these data are re-integrated as personalization algorithms. ( Jarratt, 2014) In fact, facial recognition technology is inherently due to the algorithms and training data. However, although machine learning algorithms can make inferences to some extent, they fail to incorporate human-level common sense in their reasoning. Biased databases may create discrimination for underrepresented segments.

Moreover, not everyone can offer biometrics. Those who may be difficult — the elderly, manual laborers, and the people with facial defects– have often been marginalized by society. Mordini and Massari raised concerns about the implementation of government-controlled biometric systems. Especially in the context of Australia, where includes the indigenous. This is the limitation of technology, and it can lead to exclusion. (Mordini & Massari, 2008)

Implications

Applying biometric identification to Australia seems to be a reliable option, but there are a few proposals for the ordinary Internet users. The first is to protect your privacy, especially the unique information related to biology, and not to freely reveal it to individuals. When using the Internet, we understand that your associated data will be sent to anyone interested in bidding to show you targeted advertisements (Jarratt, 2014), so we also need platform regulation or some protection such as cookies to prevent malicious tracking. Second, our human rights are equal. Although the hardware will be discriminated against due to algorithm bias, we should protect our human rights in the first place if we encounter network discrimination.

In Conclusion…

With the benefits of helping economic growth, Australia should apply biometric identification. However, the Australian government needs to set a series of laws to ensure the security of the citizens and needs to constantly improve the immature biological identification system to prevent discrimination or marginalization.

References

Buegess, M. (2020). Why Australia’s Pension System Isn’t ‘Super’ Enough. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-06/why-australia-s-pension-system-isn-t-super-enough-quicktake

Chaudhari, R. D., & Deore, R. S. (2013). International Journal of Engineering Research & Technology (IJERT), The Historical Development Of Biometric Authentication Techniques: A Recent Overview (Vol. 2 Issue 10, pp. 3921-3922).

E.Chirchi, V. R., Waghmare, L. M., & Chirchi, E. R. (2011). Iris Biometric Recognition for Person Identification in Security Systems, 24, 1-6. Retrieved from https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.259.342&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Gelb, A., & Clark, J. (2013). Identification for Development: The Biometrics Revolution. CGD Working Paper 315. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development. Retrieved from https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/159149/1426862_file_Biometric_ID_for_Development.pdf

Goggin, G., Vromen, A., Weatherall, K., Martin, F., Webb A., Sunman, L. & Bailo, F (2017). What are Digital Rights and Why Do They Matter Now? Digital Rights in Australia.

Jarrett, K. (2014). A database of intention. In Society of the query reader: Reflections on web search (pp. 16–29). Amsterdam: Institute of networked cultures.

Liu, S., & Silverman, M. (2001). A practical guide to biometric security technology. IT Professional Magazine, 3(1), 27. DOI:10.1109/6294.899930.

Mordini, E. & Massari, S. (2008). Bioethics. Body, Biometrics and Identity, 22(9), 488-498. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8519.2008.00700.x

NEC. (n.d.). Advanced Recognition Systems: The New Paradigm in Asia-Pacific. Retrieved from https://www.nec.com.au/application/files/8715/3621/4986/nec-whitepaper-advanced-recognition-systems-au.pdf

Privacy Act 1988. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2020C00237

Ursula Rao & Vijayanka Nair (2019) Aadhaar: Governing with Biometrics, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 42:3, 469-481, DOI: 10.1080/00856401.2019.1595343

 

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USYD digital culture student