Late 20th century provided the world with an opportunity to include computerized technologies in their lives, with aim to make life more convenient. As humanity transited through 21st century, these technologies rather started to substitute people’s daily needs. Biometric identification was one of these attempts to substitute old-school identification methods. It can be described in a way that, “Biometric identification” is a general term for technologies that permit matches between a “live” digital image of a part of the body and a previously recorded image of the same part, usually indexed to personal or financial information (Perakslis & Wolk 2005). As it can be observed, the fields in which this technology can be used is limitless. But, without a doubt, the most crucial field that can make use of this technology is the national security. There are many reasons that pushed people to use it especially in this field, like the threat of terrorism after attacks of 9/11, the increased amount of globalization and how globalization created the need for controlled information systems.
There is a growing interest in developed and developing countries to change their system in accordance with biometric identification, and there are many news airing everyday giving information about how countries strengthen their systems with the help of biometric identification. However, the situation is not as optimistic as it seems. The intense interest in the biometric identification system also raised many questions. “How effective it is?” and “How it may threaten individual privacy?” is only two of them. Therefore it is necessary and crucial to analyze this technology in terms of its public acceptance, cost, reliability, logistics and design; with the aim of having a better understanding on its overall benefit.
First of all, the fundamental issue with implementing the biometric identification on the public is getting the acceptance of public. It is obvious that the awareness about the use of biometric identification has raised significantly since the beginning of 21st century. Studies show that while just in 2003, 42% in US and 51% in EU was aware of what biometric identification was, later in 2008, the overall awareness has jumped to a surprising 75% (Perakslis & Wolk 2005). So the question occurs: “What would be the reasons that would push people through accepting such a technology in their daily lives?”. On the way of answering this question, it’s important to analyze what benefits people seek from biometric identification, and also what threats they concern about. As for benefits, biometric identification gives people an opportunity to have their IDs unified in one place, where all of their information is integrated for effective use. Besides, it provides a major security, especially in a decade in which people became obsessed with avoiding the threat of terror and ID theft. When it is also included that biometric identification brings speedy and accurate service and products to citizens; it can be understood that it would be a very effective way to keep all personal information under one biometric coding. However, there are also threats that keep public from embracing it completely. The first threat that comes into mind is the security of the privacy. Having all personal information on a code of biometric identification would also mean that the information provided would be vulnerable to misuse by the government, consumers being tracked down by 3rd parties and the possibility of the individual information being shared with other organizations (Deane, Barrelle, Henderson & Mahar 1995).
Besides the security concerns, there are also ethical issues regarding the use of biometric identification systems on a national level. Since the system mainly consists of coding of personal data, some people consider it as de-humanizing of themselves because they are being reduced to just codes (Deane, Barrelle, Henderson & Mahar 1995). Another threat concerning the public is that the system crushes the importance of individuality and it rather turns the government into a hostile authority, due to the fact that it sees the power in itself to monitor every move of people.
Studies show that public acceptance also differ on the type of biometric identification method used. Mainly, biometric identification methods are two, one being behavioral such as signature, voice, keystroke and the other being physiological such as fingerprint, hand geometry and retina iris. The studies have shown that people rather accept behavioral methods compared to physiological ones. The main reason founded for that in the studies is the fact that behavioral methods are less obtrusive and less intrusive, and because of it, people rather choose the method they would need cooperation and special involvement of the person in the process, giving them more of a reliable feeling (Deane, Barrelle, Henderson & Mahar 1995). As a result. Like in every aspect of life, people are also divided as accepting and denying the biometric identification systems. However, it seems as the advantages pushing people to use it is more than the concerns raised, which gives the idea that with more powerful and secure systems in the future, people might stop considering it as s threat for their individual security.
The next issue concerning the implementation of the biometric ID systems throughout the world is its cost. This part is rather important because it concerns intensively the R&D effort that has been put through these systems. There are two aspects that has direct effect on the cost of using such systems: The first aspect would be the money directly spent on implementing the biometric systems as a national security measure, and the other aspect would be the costs that would be prevented in terms of factors such as terror attacks, ID fraud etc. To focus on the first point, even though there are efforts to minimize the production cost of creating a reliable biometric ID system, it’s a known fact that the more the system gets secured, it means the more hardware it needs to cope with the computation needs, which eventually means more money spent on the projects. And if this issue is considered on the government basis, it can be predicted that it needs a significant infrastructure to build a system to cover the security of the all citizens in the country. One important information regarding this comes from the UK government. As government underestimated the possible overall cost of creating such a system, and along with the IT problems in the development process of the biometric ID system, it is predicted that an extra cost of 5.5 billion pounds need to be funded, only in the year 2005 (Goodwill 2005). It can be inferred from this example that, biometric identification systems could possibly be a burden on the national budget, which stops underdeveloped countries from investing in this technology.
The second part regarding the cost of biometric ID is based on preventing national threats such as terror and id fraud. It became even more evident after 9/11 attacks that the lack of enough investment through biometric systems could return in a lost more than it could be imagined. To avoid such disasters in the future, US government put strict restrictions about the use of biometric systems. For example, just at the beginning of 2002, they approved the law enabling the whole identification systems to be transformed into biometric ones to maximize the security. In the year of 2001, only $328 million was funded through biometric visas that have been provided to visitors. However, starting from 2002, these numbers have jumped up swiftly. Up to $1.5 billion was funded for use of biometric id methods on the visitor visas, and also up to $2.5 billion was funded for the transition of regular IDs with biometric ones. These numbers have definitely increased intensively in the later years, but it gives an idea about the overall effect avoiding national disasters have put on the cost of national security, and if it can also be considered that 9/11 attacks also pushed other countries to go through e-identification process, the cost perceived would be much higher.
Biometric identification methods to be used as a national security measure also have the problem of reliability. In spite of the intensive effort to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of these systems, due to imperfection of hardwares, it rather raises the question how much accurate the results can be protecting one’s private information. For fingerprint scanning, for instance, no matter how developed a hardware detecting can be, there are still many possible inaccuracies such as fingerprint expressions not being exactly the same, sensor noise and dry fingers, or changes in the person’s behavioral or physiological characteristics (cuts and bruises on the finger) (Jain, Ross & Prabhakar 2004). Since the biometric devices mostly work on having a scanned expression in the system in which it compares with person’s fingerprint and acts on how much identical points there are, in case of such inaccuracies, it completely destroys the purpose of the system and cannot be relied on. Another issue regarding the reliability of such a system is about the encryption of the information stored on different kinds of biometric ids. Today, it’s widely known that every coded device has the possibility of being hacked in, and because of this, the reliability of such systems would be well affected. As a result, the most important issue on the safety of biometric identification methods would be their reliability, and only with better investments in this field would minimize the vulnerability and increase the reliability.
The application of biometric identification systems are very crucial, that it also requires intensive care for logistics, as one mistake during the operation would destroy the whole purpose of the system. Security enrollment is the first idea that comes into mind while trying to provide reliable logistics in the application of this system. One little flaw in the application process might cause high failure rates. For instance, facial recognition devices in Fresno airport performed poorly in U.S army test, as well as finger scanning devices in German banks had 10% failure rate (Chandra & Calderon 2005). Besides the security measures, it also important that there are standards applying such a system, in order to ease up the logistics process and the transition to such a system. The best example of this would be the legal regulations taken in European Union. The regulations apply to passports and travel documents issued by the Member States. It does not apply to identity cards issued by the Member States to their nationals or to temporary passports and travel documents having a validity of 12 months or less (Gromov 2009). International Standards Organization also released some guidelines, rather than international standards, on how the application of biometric identification systems should be conducted. These measures would most likely increase the effectiveness and efficiency of biometric id systems, based on the fact that they ease up operational issues with regards to standardization of them.
The last part of the issues regarding the effectiveness and threats of a national biometric identification system is the design. Fundamentally, in the design process, there are few issues to be considered as requirements. These requirements are privacy awareness, which requires impossibility of duplicating personal info; multi-modality, which increases the credibility by using many devices at once; modularity; independence and deployability; which requires the stored biometric info to be used in real-time applications with effectiveness (Cimato, Gamassi, Piuri, Sassi & Scotti 2004). Design developments made considering these requirements created methods of identification in which behavioral or physiological elements are used to identify a person. In the most fundamental aspect, design of biometric identification systems is reduced to design of a pattern recognition system (Jain, Bolle & Pankanti 1999). Almost all of the behavioral and physiological characteristics such as fingerprint, voice, signature, iris is saved in the system as a pattern which later is tried to match with the person’s attributes at the check point via scanner devices. Due to the development of hardware in recent years, scanners now can acquire higher image quality that eventually minimizes the failure rate the scanner may have. Also, thanks to the nano-technology, the scanner devices became more portable in terms of design. Now police officers can have a background check of someone via a simple fingerprint scan on the go. As a result, improvements in the technology are enabling people to develop more accurate and mobile biometric identification system, in which unique attributes of every person is turned into a key to access their personal info securely.
In conclusion, in this technology based century, security measures of governments also are based on technological systems with the aim of improving the accuracy of identification checks with minimum failure. However, just like in many other fields, there are also aspects that concern the success of such a system widespread. Public acceptance is first of them, which aims at providing the feeling of security in the public by offering these methods and expecting them to embrace it as a lifestyle. Secondly, providing the balance in terms of cost management, in which while these systems bring security, they also keep the costs down and prevents a nation from having disastrous consequences like 9/11. Also, related to public acceptance, reliability of such systems is another concern, in which the failure rate should be minimized with help of high technology, giving accurate results. Logistics would be another aspect where all biometric id systems should be conducted fast and easy to provide effectiveness. And last of all, design of such systems should be as minimalistic and accurate enough, so it would be applied easily in daily life. It seems as biometric identification will be the future of security and data protection, but there will always people with the question: “Is it really 100% accurate and reliable?”