Australia’s Dilemma: Should Biometric Surveillance Be Implemented?

Has India's Aadhaar scheme proven effective and should Australia implement a similar system?

Biometric Data Gathered From Iris Photo by: Deepti Juturu, Flickr, All Rights Reserved

With the advantages of living in a growing digital era, comes issues of security, privacy and autonomy. When answering questions on how to best shape and implement these digital technologies, it’s important to consider the history of where these concepts have derived from, the way everyday users are effected and speculate changes that could better the use of these technologies.

The history of biometric identification  is important to explore, while considering how this has progressed in shaping the way technology is used in todays’ climate, both in Australia and globally. Despite the safety risks associated with biometric identification,  Australia will benefit from implementing this form of regulatory concept in the current era of technological growth. 

What is Biometric identification?

The Biometrics Institute (2020) defines biometrics as the electronic system by which recognition of individuals are based on their biological and behavioural characteristics. Although these constructs are new in our society, the concepts behind biometrics were established thousands of years ago.

Face, speaker and gait recognition have become the most common forms of biometrics in our society. Enabling the more convenient storage of personal information on technological devices (e.g. smartphones), more convenient forms of travel and ability for government to track and store personal data of civilians (Stephen Mayhew’s, n.d.).

The history of biometric regulation

The timeline through which biometric identification was explored and introduced is explored in Stephen Mayhew’s (n.d.) article where he explores research that found the concept of fingerprint recognition being used in babylonian business transactions as far back as 500 B.C.. By the 1800s fingerprint indexes were developed, providing retrieval records using metric- fingerprint patterns and ridges. In the 1960s face recognition was being developed into an automated system. The biometric system now known to man kind was introduced in the late 20th century, in conjunction with the introduction of computer systems, where it began to be used in everyday applications. In 2013, Apple first introduced fingerprint unlock on phones, which has now become a common feature on my smartphone devices (Lee, 2020).

In 2009 India’s Aadhar scheme by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) became what was believed to be a pioneer of biometric innovation (Bhatia & Bhabha, 2017). Through a 12-digit identification number registered to a card, the scheme connected citizens to transport systems and online government services. The card carries vital civilian information including their demographics and demographic information like retina scans (Bhatia & Bhabha, 2017). Despite the promised advantages, the viability of India’s Aadhaar scheme has been under much scrutiny for its data gathering accuracy, privacy and access to all Indian communities (Saraph, Kathpalia, Kidwai,& Joshi, 2018). With no regular audit being conducted on the scheme, there are questions of whether the information stored on these cards do in fact match the demographic and biometric data of a real person (Saraph et al., 2018). The scheme has also created a larger gap between marginalised communities and the general population, where those experiencing connectivity issues are in turn, robbed of access to essential government and healthcare services (Biswas, 2018). 

Aadhaar Registration: Biometric Data Gathered From Retina Scan

Photo by: Sonali, Flickr, All Rights Reserved

Taking into consideration the Aadhaar scheme, should Australian governments be proposing similar systems of surveillance?

Privacy Concerns Surrounding Government Proposal of Facial Recognition Surveillance in Australia Source: ABC News Australia, Youtube.

Should Australia implement biometric identification?   

The possibility of introducing a biometric surveillance system in Australia has caused public turbulence as close to half of the population express deep concern about the government violating their privacy (Goggin, Vromen, Weatherall, Martin, Webb, Sunman, Bailo, 2017). With 42% of participants in favour and 45% against the use of programs to track citizen use of public services and benefits, this begs the question of why there is such a close divide of opinions.

Arguments in favour

Privacy concerns under question when discussing biometric and data surveillance is argued to be outweighed by the social protection offered by such systems.

Physiology is almost impossible to replicate

Everyone has one set of physiological and behavioural traits, passwords can be changed however biology cannot. This unchangeable nature of a humans biometrics provides a strong argument for the reliability, security and assurance of biometric data (Mitek, 2020). Goggin et al (2017) further supports this argument by highlighting the effectiveness of the “five guys” arrangement between Australia, New Zealand, US, UK and Canada and how data gathering for intelligence purposes and national security has become predominantly used in governments (p. 9).

Streamlined access to government services

Civilian data analysis also offers efficient and effective delivery of welfare services by the government. As Goggin et al. (2017) outlines, a crucial example presented by the Senate (2017), looked at how data sharing allows government services like Centrelink to identify those citizens who have incorrectly received welfare benefits. By similar means, the Roads and Maritime Services are also able to self-administer essential tasks like registering a vehicle or auto-filling their personal details onto application forms without the requirement of actively being present at a service centre. This could also afford further convenience where citizens are able to keep their identification documents e.g. a driver’s license on their smartphone (Pilgrim, 2010).

Arguments Against

Although a shift to biometric data collection can be effective to certain capacities, there are a number of costs and disadvantages which also must be considered.

Costs

The use of digital biometric technology in everyday use can accumulate much higher costs than the traditional pen to paper methods of identification. This not only include the original monetary investment required to introduce and set up such schemes, however also takes into account the long-term costs associated with upgrades, maintenance and management (Mitek, 2020). With that being said however, an increase in the adoption rate has led to mass production, which in turn, benefits companies implementing biometrics with a decrease in purchasing prices (Thakkar, 2020).

Privacy: Who owns the data and dangers of misuse

Online platforms that gather personal data carry major privacy concerns, as these are often owned by private entities. These entities very rarely fully disclose the processes they use for decision-making, behavioural analytics and identity profiling and data on-selling (Goggin et al., 2017). As users, we ask the question of whether or not, or by what degree governments are effective in regulating these privately owned platforms and whether there is a guarantee that this data is being used solely for its intended purposes. As mentioned before, biometric registration with Centrelink services for example, could carry risks of the illicit use of this personal information for other purposes like population control, as Kim (1995, p.212) suggests.

Conclusively, what does this mean for Australia?

The introduction of a biometric scheme in Australia continues to cause great public rebate, however it is important to critically consider both sides of the argument. Although there are great costs and privacy concerns surrounding this, the efficiency, security and assurance this provides in the current digital age is an undeniably strong argument. As Thakkar (2020) suggests, the implication of expenses will be eradicated overtime; as greater demand for mass production will lead to lower production costs. Concerns surrounding data-use intent and privacy can be overcome by the Australian government developing trust through transparency with its citizens. As portrayed in the survey by Goggin et al. (2017, p. 2) the number of people opposing data collection dropped from 79% to 31% when the purpose of collection was disclosed as anti-terrorism security, as opposed to simply tracking web usage. Ultimately, the use of biometric technology in Australia can be justified and beneficial for the public.

Hypertextual Reference List

Bhatia, A., & Bhabha, J. (2017). India’s Aadhaar scheme and the promise of inclusive social protection. Oxford Development Studies, 45(1), 64-79.

Biswas, S. (2018). Aadhaar: Is India’s Biometric ID Scheme Hurting the Poor?. BBC News. Retrieved https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-43207964

Goggin, G., Vromen, A., Weatherall, K.G., Martin, F., Webb, A., Sunman, L. and Bailo, F., (2017). Digital rights in Australia. Digital Rights in Australia (2017) ISBN-13, pp.978-0.

Kim, H. (1995). Biometrics, is it a viable proposition for identity authentication and access control?. Computers & Security, 14 (3), 205-214. ISSN 0167-4048.

Lee, J. (2020). A brief History of Biometrics. Bioconnect. Retrieved on 20 November, 2020 from https://bioconnect.com/a-brief-history-of-biometrics/#:~:text=Where%20it%20Began,classification%20and%20comparison%20of%20criminals.

Mayhew, S. (n.d.). History of Biometrics. Biometric Update. Retrieved from: https://www.biometricupdate.com/201802/history-of-biometrics-2.

Mitek, (2020, April 6). Advantages and Disadvantages of Biometrics. [web log post] Retrieved from https://www.miteksystems.com/blog/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-biometrics.

Pilgrim, T. (2010). Privacy in Australian: Challenges and Opportunities. Australian Government Office of the Australian Commissioner. Retrieved from https://www/oaic.gov.au/privacy-law/privacy-archive/privacy-speeches-archive/privacy-in-australia-challenges-and-opportunities 

Saraph, A., Kathpalia, L., Kidwai, A., & Joshi, A. (2018). Is India’s Unique Identification Number a legally valid identification?. arXiv preprint arXiv:1806.04410.

Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee (Senate). (2017). Design, scope, cost-benefit analysis, contracts awarded and implementation associated with the Better Management of the Social Welfare System initiative. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/SocialWelfareSystem/Report.

Thakkar, D. (2020). Biometric Devices: Cost, Types and Comparative Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.bayometric.com/biometric-devices-cost/.

Unique Identification Authority of India (n.d.). Government of India. Retrieved https://uidai.gov.in/

Multimedia Reference List

ABC News Australia, (2020, June 17). Concern over the increasing use of facial recognition in CCTV cameras [Video File]. Youtube. Retrieved https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV7bTuuxMxw

Campion, S. (2013). India 13: Iris scanning during Aadhaar enrolment [Photograph]. Flikr. Retrieved  https://www.flickr.com/photos/sonalicampion/9202156432/in/photolist-f2asvw-28AbwoL-foWGvz-foXxED-STmtHJ-SULHAC-9ortvc-PCQKNB-e1A7dd-foXkSK-WoPKY4-KXsgpn-fpcayw-foWAKR-arDt4S-bBvate-bBvaVn-KN4c1t-fpcc3y-f1V39x-RUEaQ4-fwdwH1-2gBsp9g-RUE9B2-NogCAF-24C5VuB-KN4bMc-22j76PK-SGYYYy-boAfCL-28Abwnd-f1Umha-2gBrSYk-2gBsvWK-QQ4yUC-bBvayM-2gBrTTw-fpcCyW-Qyh8f3-KN4bm2-fpcRDy-RUEdxZ-P3w8qE-2hmW77h-Te6Le9-2iHVmJF-dSSXLX-2hk4Vrt-S2AmA9-2i8oAvy

Juturu, D. (2012). Future woman with cyber technology eye panel concept [Image]. Flikr. Retrieved https://www.flickr.com/photos/152552161@N02/38475047990/in/photolist-21BUFjo-nNeVPP-8vz6WS-7G5XcJ-7rnAqe-23EA3nx-eYRifA-dgqTJY-kJH26q-HSqJFw-bXe3kj-Kk7Jyg-agNQP8-ad92DQ-8d9MzP-eYDGiD-7SQqMv-VUzG5o-eYDQ2H-6TVrBw-7poDCB-es1Msd-8d9MAK-d5Ff9b-2e7GDFP-agNQNx-PjCNYk-eYDJDP-2gkeWe8-wMv4Z3-jhsWe5-ad8ABj-aVpmAe-cKNxY5-bnpKiR-agNQMH-mgPgQg-77p71F-wMC2FH-MhF5F-dApT26-bXe3m9-pUFmDt-7pswJb-dAvnzm-dApUgn-dApTu8-2bacv22-27ZjQRC-rGpNr2