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Biometrics for good governance
October 2009, Access Control & Identity Management

On a national scale, biometrics can form part of a solution to good governance when included in proven, well run processes.

Dr Jayant Kumar Banthia, chief technical advisor to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) in Nigeria, presented the keynote at BiometriX 2009 examining the role of biometric technology in governance.

Dr Jayant Kumar Banthia
Dr Jayant Kumar Banthia

The UNFPA is a development agency that promotes the right of every human to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. To accomplish this, it promotes the development of national population data programmes for policies and programmes to reduce poverty, improve healthcare and engender respect.

Starting off, Banthia said there are there are several ways in which good governance can be described and measured. The World Bank has identified six parameters of good governance.

Voice and accountability: This measures the extent to which country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media.

Political stability and absence of violence and terrorism: This measures the perceptions of the likelihood that the government will be destabilised or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including domestic violence and terrorism.

Government effectiveness: The quality of public services, the quality of the civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures, the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies.

Regulatory quality: Regulatory quality measures the ability of the government to formulate and implement sound policies and regulations that permit and promote private sector development.

Rule of law: The extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, in particular the quality of contract enforcement, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence.

Control of corruption: This control is the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as 'capture' of the state by élites and private interests.

The above is naturally far broader than the scope of the BiometriX conference. However, many of the services and social contracts that are supposed to be in place in modern countries, depend on the ability to accurately identify citizens and their specific environments and needs. Banthia noted that the state of civil registration in Africa and Asia leave a lot to be desired, as well as leaving many people outside the social welfare system. This means people are left without the legal status that birth registration confers, as well as education, international travel and property rights many people in advanced countries view as normal. The lack of death registrations leads to additional problems, including fraud as dead people still receive their pensions and so forth.

In the regions mentioned above, as well as some others, many people are born and die without leaving a trace in any legal record or official statistic and are therefore unable to attain the United Nations proclaimed right to a recorded name and nationality.

First World countries are already well ahead of the curve when it comes to keeping accurate records of citizens and migrant workers, and are able to offer the respective benefits thereof. Other countries are far behind, with the resultant human suffering. In these countries, biometric identification can fast track the registration process without requiring individuals to read and write.

When the rubber meets the road, however, the reality is that in vast projects such as this, biometrics is only a small, albeit crucial aspect of the solution. The full solution needs to be driven not from by vendors or aid agencies, but by national leaders committed to the six parameters of good corporate governance for the good of its citizens and their future.

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