The move to biometrics – identity systems based on unique physical attributes – is gaining momentum in the Australian Government. The most recent announcement in a flurry of activity is that German biometrics company Cognitec Systems will provide the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) with face recognition software.
In August, the $43m ePassports contract was awarded to Sharp Corporation, promising that Australia will be one of the first countries to issue e-passports en masse.
In October, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) outlaid more than $2.7m on a six-month trial of a biometric border control system at Sydney Airport, which will capture three types of biometrics – an iris scan, fingerprints, and a facial recognition image.
Cognitec is part of the DIMIA trial, supplying facial recognition software. Panasonic and Iridian will supply iris recognition; Smiths Heimann and ID Solutions will supply fingerprint technology and Daon will supply identity assurance software with Ethan Group providing systems integration.
DFAT expects that Cognitec Systems' face recognition technology will bolster security in passport processing and reduce fraud. The value of the contract has not yet been notified in AusTender.
Cognitec Systems is emerging as a serious contender in the biometrics field. The company has been awarded 11 government contracts in the past two years – six with Customs and five with DFAT. The small contract values suggest these were for trials.
Cognitec has been developing face recognition technology since 1995, and its FaceVACS® software was installed at Sydney Airport in 2002 as part of the government’s SmartGate trials.
SmartGate (not to be confused with DIMIA’s assessment mentioned above) is Customs' $61m face recognition system – initially trialled on Qantas crew before being extended to more than 6,000 frequent flyers earlier this year.
With biometric processing still in its infancy, there are concerns about accuracy and speed of processing. It takes approximately five minutes for three biometrics – iris, 10 fingerprints and facial image – to be processed.
A recent study for Britain's Passport Service on the use of biometric systems indicated that iris technology was the most reliable for verification, with a 96 per cent success rate. Fingerprint was next, at 81 per cent, and facial recognition only achieved 69 per cent. As the researchers pointed out – a verification rate of 95 percent still means that one in 20 people are being rejected.
However, consumers appear ready to embrace the idea of biometrics as a secure means of identifying themselves. A recent US survey commissioned by EDS and the International Association of Privacy Professionals found that 69 per cent of consumers were open to the use of biometrics for identity management – saying biometrics were convenient and meant they didn’t need to remember passwords. Only 12 per cent were against biometrics, while 19 per cent were undecided.
Whether consumers like it or not, we’ll soon see more smartcards with biometric identifiers on them, such as the new Queensland driver's licence. And it won’t be long before smiling for the cameras has a whole new meaning.