Critical Analysis of Biometric Identification

1. Introduction

Biometric identification (BI) is seldom a newly-emerged topic. The rapid information technology development in the current century makes it possible for governmental agencies to construct nation-wide identity recognition system on the basis of biometric identification technology, whereas China, the pioneer within the information technology field, has already embrace biometric identification, especially facial identification technology, into their effort in building a safer and more convenient China. However, the question of whether Australia should follow the footstep of China and legislate the nation-wide adoption of BI-enabled identification system worth further investigation. The current essay, thus critical analyses the potential influences of biometric identification. In addition, given the fact that the controversial technology is likely to damage citizens’ well being due to potential data leakage and privacy violation, it is concluded that Australia should stay cautious and postpone the introduction of biometric identification.

2. The development of biometric identification

Biometric identification is essentially a “pattern recognition system that operates by acquiring biometric data from an individual, extracting a feature set from the acquired data, and comparing this feature set against the template set in the database” (Ribaric and Fratric, 2005, p.1701). When used in identification, individuals are recognised by comparing their biometric information, including facial characteristics, fingerprints or iris features, against a database. Therefore, biometric identification is often divided into multiple forms, such as facial identification, iris identification and fingerprint identification. In fact, biometric information has long been used in identification. For instance, in the 14th century in China, biometric authentication was rather popular among merchants who use stamp their handprint on paper for contract signature and legal authentication (Mitra et al., 2016). Based on the extensive fingerprint-related study of the 19th century, State Prisons of the United States started to employ fingerprints to conduct person identification. Whereas face recognition, which is conceptualised in the 1980s, became available in the contemporary national identification system when information technology advances. Similarly, the 1985-proposed iris identification also became practical applications when UAE launched a national security initiative that centres around iris identification technologies (Raghavendra et al., 2017).

Ink-covered handprint in an ancient Chinese document, Stake Exchange, All rights reserved


3. The benefits of biometric identification

The development and employment of biometric identification are driven by goodwill, which intends to improve public safety and make life more convenient. Within the context of public safety, biometric identification has been widely used in the police department as the FBI developed an automatic fingerprint identification system in the 1960s (Bose and Kabir, 2017). Recently, facial identification is considered as a more popular form of biometric identification, which helps the Chinese government to not only modernise its national identity system but also tackle crimes with higher efficiencies. According to Qiang (2019), the so-called “Skynet”, a nation-wide camera-centric surveillance system, is powered by both facial identification technologies and big data analysis, which enable the Chinese government to track criminals, identify fugitives and trace human trafficking. For instance, police officers from Hubei province utilised AI-enabled facial identification algorithm and helped a family in reunite with their child who was abducted ten years ago (Cao, 2019). Besides, the Skynet system also facilitates law enforcement in China to detect Jihadist extremists and fight terrorism.

Iris identification enrolment in UAE, Wikipedia, All rights reserved


In addition to public safety, biometric technologies, such as facial identification and iris identification also enable a contactless and potentially ubiquitous environment, which provide a more convenient living environment. In a business-centric perspective, advanced biometric identification technology, such as facial recognition, help marketers to utilise facial and iris information as alternatives for payment authentication. For example, the Chinese government works closely with the Alibaba group, which collects facial information for both commercial and regulatory purpose. As a result, Chinese consumers are able to make payment by conducting on-site facial recognition, even though they forget to take their smartphone for mobile payment. In addition, Chinese governmental bodies, such as transportation department, is also able to provide convenient passenger check-in services in both railway stations and airports based on the facial identification database collected by Alibaba group (Gao et al., 2020).

Alipay powered by facial identification, TechCrunch, All rights reserved


4. The drawbacks of biometric identification

Although biometric identification is well-intended, various concerns are raised by the public. Among which, data security is one of the key challenges of implementing full-scale biometric identification system in Australia. For example, a China-based facial identification firm, named SenseNets, was involved in a catastrophic private information leakage incident, during which the database of the software firm was breached, and more than 2 million records of private information, which include facial identifies and full names, were illegally acquired by unknown third parties (Varley-Winter, 2020). Similarly, Taylor (2019) reported that the biometric identities of around 1 million UK citizens were found on an online database, which was publicly accessible and unprotected. Therefore, the potential information leakage of biometric identities raises public concerns.


Another controversy surrounding biometric identification involves the violation of privacy and freedom (Varley-Winter, 2020). Despite the fact that advanced BI-enabled surveillance systems are effective to safeguard the well-being of the mass public and diminish the threat of terrorism, it still likely to infringe on people’ freedom/privacy and provide a source for abuse. For instance, the in-class monitoring system of China Pharmaceutical University, which enabled by facial identification technologies, caused ethical debates. As a result, the governmental agencies of China, such as the Ministry of Education, came forward with regulations and called for non-radical adoption of controversial technologies (Cao, 2019). According to a national survey conducted by Monash University, around 49% of the survey respondents consider the application of facial identification in public space as a violation of privacy. It is therefore obvious that the Australian society is rather unprepared for the potential full-scale adoption of biometric identification systems.

AI-enabled facial identification in a Chinese classroom, CBS News, All rights reserved


5. Implications

The above-presented advantages and disadvantages pinpointed the fact that biometric identification, especially trending facial identification, is a rather controversial technology. Therefore, within the Australian context, in which individuals’ privacy and freedom is highly respected, the current essay thus recommends postponing the nation-wide adoption of biometric identification in Australia. In other words, the general public of Australian society should take a critical viewpoint towards biometric identification and urge the government to give full considerations to the potential drawbacks of such technologies.


6. Conclusion

In conclusion, the potential influence of biometric identification within the Australian context is two-folded. One the one hand, the employment of biometric identification is likely to positively contribute to public safety for that BI-enabled surveillance systems could further minimise the crime rates and assist anti-terrorism efforts; whereas Australian citizens may also benefit from biometric identification as the integration between such technology and various consumption scenarios could establish a contactless and potentially ubiquitous environment, in which citizens are able to enjoy more convenient payment and transportation. One the other hand, although the intention of nation-wide biometric identification is for well-being development, the drawbacks of such technologies are not neglectable, since previous incidents have already highlighted that insufficient data security and the potential violation of privacy may outweigh the benefits. Consequently, the current essay argues that a more cautious stance should be taken, whereas the nation-wide embracement of biometric identification systems should be delayed.




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