In eyeing off Biometric Identification, India’s new identification system has become a touchy subject. Should Australia implement its own Aadhaar card or will the fear of big brother hinder its application?
In critically analysing the implementation of India’s Aadhar card, important lessons can be understood regarding the actual application of Biometric identification and its possible operation in Australia. The implementation of Biometric identification in countries such as India has raised questions surrounding existing legislations ability to protect the right to privacy in pursuit of national security and administrative efficiency.
In the first section of this essay an inquiry will be conducted into the historical context of Biometric identification to substantiate credible and succinct definitions of what and how these systems operate. Drawing from the case study of India’s biometric identification system and other examples, the advantages and disadvantages of a similar system in Australia will be evaluated. The essay will then endeavour to explore wider implications of the technology on ordinary Australian internet users.
Upon closer examination, without proper legislation that ensures protection over privacy and use of biometric data, the advantages of this identification system would be negated.
A Biometric Beginning: What is it and where did it come from?
Biometric identification is an “emerging field of technology devoted to the identification of individuals using biological traits.” (Cosmi, P, Meloni, S, Marazno, R & Saccocerbic, R, 2009, p.43) The ability of such systems has allowed for instantaneous, automated technology that can associate physical features with legal identity.
To issue unique identifiers, the individual physiological data is often collected as demonstrated in figure 1. Biographic information can also be collected such as signature scans, name, date of birth, place of birth, parents, nationality, residence and attached to the unique identifier often issued as a card or number. (Sheckleford, 2019)
The scientific discipline was first used by French anthropologist Alphonese Bertillon in 1882 who developed a model to identify, classify and compare prisoners through measurements of the individuals head and body. (Smyth, 2019) Since its early beginnings, the identification system has remained a pursuit of government and law enforcement to combat crime. In 1903, New York prisons began using fingerprints as a measurement of identification that eventually saw to the FBI’s 1965 installation of the first automated fingerprint identification system. (Smyth, 2019)
Most recently, the Indian government has embarked on a national biometric identification system initiated in 2009 by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIAI) which collates the biometric data of its citizens in return for a 12-digit identification number stored on a plastic card, the Aadhaar card. (Bhatia & Bhabba, 2017) Initially proposed by the Indian government, the Aadhaar card worked to streamline the administrative branch of public services and combat national security threats and terrorism. However, close examination of the intricate operation of the card reveals the important social, political and economic implications of biometric identification.
The Pro – Con list of an Australian Aadhar:
Pros: National Security & Law enforcement
In light of escalating global insecurity the use of biometric identification provides a technology that can be used as a tool to mitigate security risks. (Smyth, 2019) The historical context and use of biometric data as a tool for law enforcement has seen pushes for its continued use to aid national security. In protecting borders Australia already uses successful facial recognition techniques, known as smart gates. (Emani, Brown & Smith, 2016) In both India and Australia biometric identification databases that use facial recognition as a monitoring tool have been proposed by governments to fight cyber-crime, terrorism, identity fraud and corruption. (Bhatia & Bhaba, 2013; Smyth, 2019)
Con: Lack of legislative protection and the right to privacy
The major concern that prevails the collection of biometric data is that it clashes with the individuals right to privacy and that without adequate legal safeguards this right is vulnerable to violation. (Carblanc, 2009)
Why is biometric data a privacy threat?
According to Harel (2009) this threat is heightened as the characteristics of biometrics allows the linking to sensitive personal information that can be the “missing link between he immateriality of information flows and networks and the materiality of individual embodied existence.” (p.88)
India’s Aadhar card sparked privacy concerns due to a lack of concrete legislation have ultimately linked to a supreme court trial decision that prohibited the governments use of biometric data.
Supreme Court's #AadhaarJudgment is a major blow to the #ModiGovt as it disallows the Govt to encroach into privacy of citizens. Govt must apologise to those whose mobile and bank accounts have been forcefully and illegally linked with their #Aadhaar under pressure.
— Sanjay Nirupam (@sanjaynirupam) September 26, 2018
Australian Human rights commissioner expressed concern regarding Australia’s formal recognition of the right to privacy in legalisation. Under current legal framework the Australia Privacy Foundation asserts that “no new biometric schemes should be implemented until and unless comprehensive laws have been brought into effect to regulate them.”
Pro: Administrative efficiency
Another argument in support of a biometric identification system such as the Aadhar card is that the administrative efficiency awarded from the automated system would provide streamlined public services that promotes universal access and convenience of use. (Bhatia & Bhaba, 2013) Didiler and Bournon (2009, p.19) have argued the convenience afforded by these technologies in relation to time “avoiding queues, faster answers and immediate access to information,” space and finances that would see the “faster transfer of social security benefits and economy driven dematerialisation.” The scholars further argue that correct biographical and biometric data is instrumental in the design of social welfare programs and policy infrastructure that could provide support to societies disadvantaged.
However, despite the Aadhar promising appeal to revolutionise India’s decentralised social security infrastructure the rapid implementation of the card has seen the opposite occur. (Bhatia & Bhaba, 2013) This example serves as a warning sign to Australia to assure that the infrastructure of such biometric identification systems is developed through conscious planning and awareness of the possible implications. A similar trajectory in Australia has been warned if biometric identification were to be implemented, with history following the governments scandal of social welfare card and robodebt.
Con: Function creep
There is also concern attached to the misuse of biometric data which as established earlier is regarded as highly personal and sensitive information. Cosmi et al. (2009) define this process as ‘function creep’ in which the original purpose of acquiring the information is expanded to include a range of uses that differ from the original practice. The effects of function creep in the form of what Sheckleford (2013) coins as passive monitoring is a major concern for citizens enrolled in the database in where their engagement with the system might produce a transaction history of data and lead to further identity profiling. These concerns are founded in legitimacy when recalling the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Moreover, cyber security researchers from Melbourne University have warned of the weak infrastructure of government networks such as the new 800m digital business plan that will let you access myGov with facial recognition that can be easily compromised.
Con: Existing efficient legal documentation
Without any immediate threat on the status-quo of our original documentation systems the rush towards a biometric identification system without sufficient safeguards and legal protection seems rather unnecessary.
Implications for ordinary Australian internet users
The effects of biometric identification have already been integrated into everyday use for ordinary citizens on the internet. Biometric identification could see as discussed increased convenience and access to services through the internet. However, Increasingly the heightened surveillance of companies has seen increased market manipulation of users and amplified commercialisation, effects which could be exacerbated by a biometric identification scheme if the data were misused. Trends that have already occurred in the private sector with instances such as Cambridge Analytica, illustrating how sensitive data can be compromised and corrupted for alternate use.
Although, the Aadhar card operates in a different cultural, political and social context the flaws of the system serve as an important reminder in the actual application and implications of revolutionary technology.
When evaluating the arguments of the system for security and efficiency comparatively with the system’s ability to infringe on an individual’s rights the necessity of biometric identification can be determined. The risks concerning privacy and data misuse outweigh any need for convenience that such a system would afford to Australia’s national security or services. The future of biometrics in Australia is therefore dependent on clear policy framework that clarifies what constitutes the rights, uses and storage of data. This future would require a careful balancing exercise that weighs up convenience and necessity with individual rights. To leverage the effects of biometric identification for administrative efficiency, law enforcement and national security, well-defined legal frameworks would need to be established in order to secure individual rights.
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