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Biometrics: Government use far outstrips commercial applications

by Staff Writers •
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Government use of biometrics far outstrips commercial applications to date, according to Fujitsu’s UK based biometrics Head of Practice, Dr Alex Bazin. 

Bazin was presenting to a government and industry audience in Canberra on 16 March 2010. 

Characteristics used to establish a unique identity for a person using biometrics include facial image, iris, voice, fingerprint, and with a Fujitsu offering, the veins of the palm.  In some instance, more than one characteristic is used eg facial image and fingerprint, to create a multi-modal system.

In Australia, the Federal Government has already made heavy investments in the use of biometrics to support both immigration and passport functions. 

According to Intermedium’s database of Federal Government ICT contracts, in the five years from 2004-05 to 2008-09, a minimum of $31.045m was spent on biometrics.  This is the total value across all agencies of contracts with the word ‘biometrics’ explicitly in the contract description. 

Enforcement agency use of biometrics is now at a point of maturity, Bazin said.  The FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System has now been in use for 20 years, and has reached its 3rd iteration, with the need to identify efficiencies and lower the cost of use the main driver, rather than the quest for new or innovative breakthroughs.

In Bazin’s opinion, global Immigration and Border Control uses of biometrics are the emergent area for the technology, with the emphasis being on ‘exporting the border’ to the point of origin for the traveller, with identity being fully confirmed before the individual commences his or her journey.

Immigration and border enforcement

Automated border control in the UK had a return on investment of 12 months, according to Bazin, but the chief driver for the implementation of biometrics in Australian immigration administration was the problems caused by the inability to correctly identify Australian citizens and permanent residents.

The  Palmer Inquiry found on 14 July 2005 that Cornelia Rau had been unlawfully detained due to the then Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs’ (DIMIA’s) inability to correctly identify her.  It also found that Vivian Solon had been wrongfully deported to the Philippines in 2001, again due to an inability by Immigration to correctly identify her. 

In early 2008, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans announced that the increased use of biometrics was ‘a key tool in the fight against identity crime which could lead to unlawful entrants threatening Australia's border and visa processes’.  The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) currently uses two biometric technologies in conjunction – facial images and finger scans. These biometrics are being progressively rolled out to various immigration processes, including visa applications.

Intermedium’s data indicates that over the five years from 2004-05, Immigration has spent a minimum of $28.54m on contracts (again this represents only those with the term ‘biometrics’ included in the contract description).   

Of the total value of federal contracts utilising biometrics in their contract description, Unisys, which has invested heavily in developing a biometrics practice, was awarded contracts to a total value of $25.54m over the five years from 2004-05, predominantly at DIAC.

Other government applications for biometrics are passport issuance, electronic Identification (eID) and military uses (predominantly in access control and suspect identification).

Passport Issuance

Australia's first ePassport was introduced in October 2005, and replaced by a new version in 2009.  This new version has improved security features including an embedded microchip in the centre page storing the holder's digitised photograph, name, gender, date of birth, nationality, passport number, and the passport expiry date.

 In January 2010, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) invited Expressions of Interest for the provision of an ‘Australian travel document issuance solution’ to assist it to meet its future business needs.  DFAT’s requirements were categorised into four main service elements, the first of which, eScan included the ‘capture of all data and images required to apply for an Australian travel document, including form images, colour facial images, signatures and supplementary data’.

Electronic Identity (eID)

The use of biometrics to verify an individual’s identity seems to be acceptable in Australia provided no smart card is involved.  Centrelink has now implemented a biometric voice authentication system which utilises two different voice recognition engines – Nuance and Valid Voice, a University of Queensland developed product.

Centrelink chief information officer John Wadeson told Australian IT in January 2009 the welfare agency had been investigating the use of voice authentication since 2002.

Kaz Group (now Fujitsu) developed the software that integrates the two voice engines and provides a managed service for the software, under a five year contract that Telstra (the previous owner of Kaz) has with the Department of Human Services.   Fujitsu positions itself globally as a systems integrator or prime contractor for large biometrics projects.

It is believed that the solution at Centrelink is either the largest or second largest implementation of biometric voice authentication in the world.  

Modifications of the technology implemented at Centrelink could readily be used for identifying speakers on pre recorded tapes, for general help desk and password reset tasks and for the performance of secure transactions on the internet, all of which lend themselves to wider use in government.  

Policing

Despite the strong investments by Federal government in immigration, passport and eID solutions, Bazin says that policing is the area that is most likely to see further uses of biometrics – especially in enabling a more fully mobile police force.  The concept is to minimise the downtime involved in taking a citizen back to a police station for the performance of identity checking – according to Bazin, up to 3 hours per day per patrol car could be gained if identity checking was able to be done at the roadside. 

 

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