Biometrics and identity on the international stage

November 2010 Access Control & Identity Management

At the recent Citizen ID conference held in Sandton, industry experts presented to stakeholders on current use and implementation of biometrics as a tool for security and identification. One such speaker was SN Tisane from the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs in Botswana, who was there to discuss the nation’s National Identification System and the associated challenges.

21st century border crossings

Botswana’s current system is based on an obsolete system of more than 10 years of age and a replacement system is currently being implemented. The system will tie in with passport and border control to enable a far-flung border post in the remotest part of the country to have the latest and most up-to-date citizen information, the same as at the main border posts and Home Affairs offices in Gaborone. This database info is due to be globally connected, ie, every embassy will have the same digital information as the aforementioned border posts and offices. Additionally, an electronic passport booklet, similar to those becoming commonplace across the developed world, is also being rolled out.

Fingerprints from Interpol

The above example is one of many systems pertaining to global security solutions. But global solutions do not end purely with identification by passport, as any episode of CSI will teach you – fingerprinting is really where it is (perceived to be) at, and with this in mind, a presentation from Mark Branchflower, head of the fingerprint division of Interpol, proved very enlightening.

According to Branchflower, Interpol is looking to use more than just fingerprints in the future – while the agency has a number of differing databases, fingerprinting is currently the most widely-used and established system of identifying flagged individuals. Interpol has stated that to enable it to really make the impact it is meant to, the institution would like its 188 member countries to provide it with far more data regarding both foreign nationals arrested in other countries and nationals suspected of trans-national crimes.

In 2008, 80% of the fingerprints information came from Europe, but by 2009 that figure had dropped to 66%. It is important to realise that this does not mean that less fingerprint sets are coming in from Europe, but rather that the rest of the world has started to cotton on to the idea and has thus upped the amount of fingerprint information being sent through to Interpol.

The problem the agency is running into is that the current database is far too manual. Each search is controlled by a fingerprint technician, and the database has a limit of a mere 200 000 fingerprints and 5000 latent prints. Crime scene marks are currently also unable to be stored. There is however a new database in the pipeline, the new Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). This system will:

* Increase the daily throughput from 100 to 1000 ANSI/NIST files.

* Increase the amount of data stored from 1 000 000 sets of 10 fingerprints.

* Support palm prints.

Additionally, the new AFIS gateway will:

* Support the same throughput of the new AFIS system.

* Make automated replies to fingerprint searches from member countries, with a response time of 10 minutes rather than the current 24 hours. In addition, a No Hit will be validated by the AFIS system and AFIS examiners will focus on hit validation.

* Have an open and vendor-independent interface between remote end users and AFIS sub-systems.

* Support different IT or user interfaces (e-mail, Web services or user forms).


Another concept from Interpol is called MIND/FIND: providing law enforcement with instant worldwide access to Interpol databases. According to Interpol’s website, “To help countries connect easily, Interpol has developed two integrated solutions using either fixed or mobile integrated network databases, known as FIND and MIND. Both can integrate into the existing computer-assisted verification system in a country. In addition, MIND can be used in a country without an existing system.”

Facial vs. iris scanning

On other biometric topics discussed at the conference, one query that cropped up was that of facial vs. iris scanning as a means of identification. A distinction was made between the uses of the two in that facial identification is a handy tool in law enforcement where items such as CCTV footage are used. An iris scan, on the other hand, is only useful when a scanner, such as to provide access through a secured door, is provided. The usage distinction was summarised as follows: we do not leave our iris scans lying around, but we do leave a record of our face wherever there is a camera.

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