This essay aims to dive into the possibilities of biometric identification by touching on the historical aspects of biometrics while referring to India’s biometric system ‘Aadhar’ to illustrate the use of biometrics as a regulatory concept.
A critical analysis will be made to investigate further on the benefits of implementing a central biometric identification system like Aadhar – and the negatives such as the potential risks of ethical issues and unequal accessibility. Thus, the advantages and disadvantages can assist in suggesting whether Australia should or should not follow India’s footsteps in adopting a digitalised biometric identification system.
Biometric Identification, as defined by Alterman (2003), refers to technologies that match one’s body part’s digital image to the person’s registered personal details. An Individual’s biometric identifiers can be obtained from their physiological and behavioural characteristics such as their digital fingerprints, retinal scans, facial characteristics, and vocal patterns (Alterman, 2003, p.139). Every Individual’s biometrics are unique to oneself, which makes biometric measurements efficient and appealing in today’s contemporary society.
“Biometric Identification” by AFP News Agency
Major breakthroughs began in the 1800s, where the French Bertillon System of Identification developed the utilisation of body measurements to classify, compare and identify criminals. Bertillon recognised that Polices primarily rely on criminal files that contain photographs and descriptions that are unreliable and inaccurate (Fosdick, n.d, p.363). Therefore, he stresses the significance of a more precise and dependable method of identification for crime detection with the use of physical characteristics like the length of the head, finger, foot, cubit and later moves towards fingerprint recognition (Thakkar,n.d).
The Bertillon system introduced the world to the infinite potential of biometrics as a means of personal identification. The use of fingerprinting expanded outside of criminal identification as shown by the establishment of the Henry Classification System in the 1900s. This system became the foundation of today’s Automated fingering identification System.
The field of biometrics grew within the 19th century (Lee, 2020) :
- development of semi-automated facial recognition methods in the 1960s
- speech recognition technologies in the 1980s
- patenting of iris recognition algorithms in 1985
- patenting of hundreds of biometric authentication recognition algorithms in everyday commercial products in the 200s
The Aadhar Card
The concept of India’s Aadhar began in 2004 as a system to differentiate citizens and the large number of illegal immigrants entering the Indian Borders (Ghangare & Ranade, 2019). The Aadhar card initial aims were to assist the National Population Register in storing all Indian’s identity records and increased government surveillance in border control and immigration. In modern India, Aadhar cards are mandatory to access various government services ranging from health care to pension claims. To obtain a card, a person has to undergo various biometric verification processes such as Iris scans and fingerprints. Today, Aadhaar is considered as the largest Biometric ID system in the world where over 99% of Indians aged 18 and above had enrolled based on public data record (Ghangare & Ranade, 2019).
Australian Biometric Future: For or Against?
The “Against” Argument
The implementation of biometrics has been linked to concerns of national security and ethical issues like invasions of privacy, identity thefts, fake registrations and widening of the socio-economic gap.
- Ethical issues on privacy
People are worried about their privacy rights and protection, and the malicious acts when their biometrics data fall under the wrong hands. 49% of Australians expressed their extreme concern about strangers utilizing their information and claiming their identity (Australian Institute of Criminology Report, 2020). According to the research conducted by Ghangare & Ranade, respondents conveyed their anxiety about being recognised as their information at risk of numerous dangers from illegal tracking, stealing and misusing of their confidential information and potential harassments. Some expressed their distress in regards to their information being purchased by advertising agencies or other activities without their consent.
Scandals around major media platforms like Facebook substantiated the growing solicitude on online privacy. The Australian Information Commissioner (2020) denounce Facebook’s data breach of more than 300,000 Australians by Cambridge Analytica for election and campaign use. Therefore, there must be strict regulations and legislations in data privacy, access and protections to ensure the infallibly of the identification system.
- Inequality of Access
The challenge to go forward with implementing a biometric identification system is being able to ensure that everyone has equal access to it – underprivileged societies, vulnerable groups and minorities. India’s aims to enforce Aadhar as mandatory were to bridge the gap between these groups and available government resources and services, however, they failed to consider its potential contribution in further exclusion of benefits. Repeated or failed biometric authentication attempts have led to denial of subsidies to the poor, homeless and disabled persons that rely on the National Food Security Act and other welfare beneficiaries (Singh, 2019). The biometric system also requires a fast and secure internet connection unavailable in rural India.
Australia’s Digital Divide may get in the way of the inability to adopt a biometrics system as people living in remote and regional Australia lack in reliable internet infrastructure and inability to afford internet connectivity. According to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2018, the digital inclusion amongst Indigenous Australians remains lower than average due to socio-economic and financial disadvantages. Ultimately, the challenge would be on how to make the system feasible and inclusive to these disadvantaged groups and to persuade them to be identified.
The “For” Argument
Despite privacy concerns of biometric technologies, Australians have recognised the potential of biometrics to grant numerous social, political and economic benefits, evident through India’s Aadhar architecture.
- Increase in Public Acceptance
According to the Australian Institute of Criminology Report (2020), with more people experiencing identity crimes in contemporary society, the acceptance of biometric technologies amongst Australians has increased. Respondents stated that they are open to exploring facial recognition methods for identifying suspects of terrorism and criminals, airport border screening processing and as a component of national identity documentation. Public attitudes play a significant role in the acceptance of technology, as in order to successfully deploy biometrics, citizens must be willing and open to use the system.
Once Australians are compliant, it allows room for the constructive and efficient conveyance of government and public services. Fingerprinting can be used to verify a person’s identity when using services such as Jobkeeper and Centrelink. In India, linking a citizen’s Aadhar card and their bank accounts are mandatory, and it has allowed the government to execute various schemes and equally distribute public provident funds (Ghangare & Ranade, 2019).
- Increased Security
Alterman (2003) described biometric identification as ‘less fallible and potentially much faster’ than the usual signatures, photo ID’s and other forms of visual documentation. As illustrated by the Australian Border Force’s efforts incorporating biometrics in airports with the development of ‘Smart Gates’, replacing in-person immigration checks with facial recognition technologies to validate the person’s identity quickly and securely than ever before. These biometrics technologies guarantee the concept of a secure identification process that enables us to effectively and efficiently access services and store our information seamlessly.
The Indian Government was able to integrate the Aadhar card database to establish a digitalised Biometric Voting System where biometric fingerprint machines were utilized to authenticate voters during Election Day. The biometric machine was effective in verifying whether a citizen’s fingerprints match the image stored in the database (IJIRCE, 2016). It also helped in eliminating fake registrations and prevention of other voting anomalies like identity duplications. Thus, incorporating biometric technologies can strengthen Australia’s identity verifying processes and shield people’s data from abuses and potential breaches (Jackson & Ligertwood, 2006).
If Australia decides to follows India’s footsteps, there must be strict enforcement of privacy laws and legislation to ensure the safe-keeping of biometrics data. However, this could lead to an expansion in government surveillance and intervention in people’s movements online. Internet users are more prone to strict monitoring and invasion of data, and increased commercialisation of private information for marketing purposes. There could also be a portion of the online population that values anonymity therefore there may be implications in persuading these groups to sacrifice their anonymity and get them identified.
In Conclusion, Australia should implement a biometric identification system to better provide government services and strengthen national security. Despite the risks of ethical issues and potential inequality of access, biometrics would grant numerous social, economic, and political benefits as long as it is carefully executed with established strict privacy laws and that it is accessible for every Australian.
Alterman, A. (2003). “A piece of yourself”: Ethical Issues in biometric Identification. Ethics and Information Technology, 5(3), 139-150. DOI: 10.1023/B:ETIN.0000006918.22060.1f
Australian Government Office of the Australian Information Commisoner. (2020, March 9). Commissioner launches Federal Court action against Facebook [Media release]. Retrieved from https://www.oaic.gov.au/updates/news-and-media/commissioner-launches-federal-court-action-against-facebook/
Blackiston,H. (2020). Facebook faces $1bn fine for breach of Australian privacy law over Cambridge Analytica scandal. Retrieved from https://mumbrella.com.au/facebook-faces-1bn-fine-for-breach-of-australian-privacy-law-over-cambridge-analytica-scandal-620860
Chakraborty, S., Mukherjee, S., Sadhukhan, B. & Yasmin, T. K. (2016). Biometric Voting System using Adhar Card in India. International Journal of Innovative Research in Computer and Communication Engineering, 4(4), 5284- 5291, DOI: 10.15680/IJIRCCE.2016. 0404222
Fosdick, R. B. (1916). The Passing of The Bertillon System of Identification. Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, 6(3), 363. Retrieved from https://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/jclc6&id=331&collection=journals&index=
Ghangare, A. S. & Ranade, A. R. (2019). Aadhar Card – Perspectives on Privacy. Journal of International Pharmaceutical Research, 46(5), 135-142. Doi: 10.20944/preprints201809.0130.v1
Lee, J. (2020). A Brief History of Biometrics. Retrieved from https://bioconnect.com/a-brief-history-of-biometrics/#:~:text=Where%20it%20Began,classification%20and%20comparison%20of%20criminals.
Singh, P.(2019). Aadhaar and data privacy: biometric identification and anxieties of recognition in India. Information, Communications & Society,23 (11). Doi:10.1080/1369118X.2019.1668459
Thakkar, D. (n.d.). Biometric Authentication Now and Then: History and Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.bayometric.com/biometric-authentication-history-timeline/
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index. (2018). Measuring Australia’s Digital Divide. Retrieved from https://digitalinclusionindex.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Australian-digital-inclusion-index-2018.pdf