Our identity is key to securing information so the ability to securely establish our identity and create trust has become critical. Whether we are moving through an airport, crossing a border, registering to vote or conducting a financial transaction, the ability to positively assert our identity has become a sort of global “currency.”It is commonly accepted that there are three approaches available to prove a person’s identity and to provide “the right person with the right privileges, the right access at the right time”. These identity proving approaches, which establish the genuineness of the identity, are: 

Something you have
The associated service or access is received through the presentation of a physical object (keys, magnetic card, identity document), in possession of the concerned person.
Something you know
A pre-defined knowledge, as a password normally kept secret, permits to access a service.
Something you are
Measurable personal traits, such as biometric measures, can also be used for identity prove. A combination of these approaches makes the identity proof more secure.

The use of the third approach, in addition to the others, has significant advantages. Without sophisticated means, biometrics are difficult to share, steal or forge and cannot be forgotten or lost. This latter solution provides thus a higher security level in identity prove.

Here we briefly discuss the potential of biometrics to protect citizen’s rights and enable financial inclusion.

Biometrics and Citizen’s Rights
As biometrics are intrinsic to individuals there are understandable concerns about the scope for mismanagement and civil rights implications. Some recent developments highlight how improved identity management using biometrics can secure identities and thus protect citizens’ rights.

The case of Vivian Alvarez [1] in Australia highlights this point. Vivian was an Australian citizen of Philippine extraction who after sustaining a head injury lost her memory. She had no identification document and was deemed to be an illegal immigrant by Australian authorities and was deported to the Philippines. Under her actual identity she was declared a missing person and was subsequently identified by a priest watching a missing persons program on television who knew her as the “illegal immigrant”.

After several hundreds of man hours work by Australian authorities Vivian Alvarez had her citizenship rights restored. The subsequent government inquiry advocated the use biometric technology to prevent such incidents in the future. Had facial biometrics been used for as part of a registry for missing persons integrated to a biometric database of individuals who outstayed visas Vivian Alvarez could have been quickly established as a bona fide Australian Citizen.

The Alvarez case was not alone in Australia and it led to the wholesale reorganization of immigration and citizenship processes which now incorporate biometrics.

Interestingly societies where citizens’ rights and privacy had been abused in the past have been very proactive in adopting biometrics as a means of privacy and administering government services notably Estonia, which was a police state under Soviet rule so its citizens understandably have concerns about protecting their privacy. Yet is citizens have enthusiastically adopted biometrics as part of their national identity scheme.

Biometrics Enabling Financial Inclusion in India
Literacy and a fixed verifiable address are one of the key assumptions of the modern financial system. Yet some of those who most need credit to escape poverty possess neither of these. Innovative identity management systems using biometrics are helping to solve this problem. One in every nine persons on earth is a rural Indian; over 70 per cent of Indian villagers do not have a bank account.

Financial institutions are using biometrics to enroll citizens and identify them; this is alongside the planned incorporation of biometrics in the upcoming new Indian national ID known as UID (Universal ID) The UID will be the world’s largest biometric identity program, one which will eventually encompass 1.2 billion residents. Indian citizens will submit two fingerprints and an iris scan.

UID is designed to transform Indian society by providing an identity to address the fact that:

  • 600 Million People have no formal Identity, and identity essential for access to critical services
  • Social Program expenditure of $30 Billion, suffers massive leakage (estimates between 20% to 40%)
  • Identity is agency specific with no portability, and each agency incurs costs maintaining these identities
  • Tax leakages cause significant revenue shortfalls from individuals claiming multiple tax identities
  • There is no access to credit for the unbaked
  • Savings not being held in financial system reduces liquidity in their domestic banking system

Source http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/pdf/alvarez_report03.pdf

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