The government sector has long been a key driver – if not the key driver – of the biometrics market. But with biometric technologies having advanced by leaps and bounds over the last few years, the applications and deployments that are taking place now are more exciting than ever. This is all going to get some extra time in the spotlight for the next few weeks, because September is Government Biometrics Month at FindBiometrics, where you’ll find special features, interviews, and live coverage of FedID, our premier partner for this market sector.
Of course, government biometrics entails a huge variety of technologies and use cases. So to get things started, we’ve compiled a primer on some of the key trends and programs currently underway.
Border Control at the Airport
This is a big one. According to a new report from Acuity Market Research, between this year and 2022, annual revenues from the airport biometrics market will grow from $156 million to $389 million. Acuity points to Europe as the key regional driver, but it’s clear that biometric border control is already shaping up in the US in a big way, too: The Customs and Border Protection agency first started trialing biometric security screening systems back in 2015, testing out fingerprint scanning at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and facial recognition at the Washington Dulles International Airport. It would go on to focus on the latter modality, and over the past year the CBP has extended its airport face scanning program to numerous airports across the country. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has been working with CLEAR to extend their expedited passenger screening program, TSA PreCheck, to more airports across the country, allowing registrants who have enrolled biometric and biographic data in advance at IDEMIA’s IdentoGO centers to breeze through security screening where available. And for their part, airlines and airports around the world have been increasingly enthusiastic about embracing biometric passenger screening technologies to facilitate growing passenger volumes and improve efficiency.
Policing is one area in which biometrics have long played an important role, thanks in large part to the widespread practice of fingerprinting criminals and searching for this kind of information in crime scenes. Technological advancements have made this kind of work much faster and more reliable, while the emergence of sophisticated mobile technology has seen fingerprint scanning deployed in the field via handheld devices. And biometric technology is making its way into prison systems as well, with specialists like Iris ID delivering solutions that can identify inmates more reliably than conventional methods. Meanwhile, other modalities are becoming more important, especially facial recognition. In a country like China, where state surveillance is simply a given, face scanning has taken hold as a means of detecting and punishing all kinds of crimes; in the West, meanwhile, it has only just started to emerge, and while there has been controversy around issues like Amazon’s sale of facial recognition technology to police, it seems fair to expect that law enforcement’s interest in this technology is only going to increase. Indeed, in places like South Wales, police have been expanding their use of facial scanning technology in public settings, and have delivered positive results as their technology – provided by NEC – has improved and become more accurate.
While the law enforcement authorities are increasingly looking to turn popular biometric technologies like fingerprint and face scanning to policing applications, the military market represents a whole different beast, with an appetite for highly sophisticated technologies and a budget to back it up. Military interests are looking to identify enemy combatants in the field and authenticate their own service members at the base, ideally with as little friction as possible. And defense departments around the world are increasingly looking to collect and share biometric intelligence, with the US far from alone in its use of biometric technologies.
Aadhaar and Biometric ID
Administrated by the Unique Identification Authority of India, or UIDAI, Aadhaar is the world’s biggest, most ambitious biometric national ID program. Over the last few years, Aadhaar has become pervasive in Indian society, with almost every citizen having enrolled their fingerprint, iris, face, and biographic data. Given the rapidity with which it has been implemented – it’s seen as a crucial component of a broader modernization program called “Digital India” – it has, at times, been a bit of a mess, with the UIDAI having repeatedly seen security and legal controversies, and periodically issuing press releases to clarify how Aadhaar works for citizens and government officials alike. But there’s no denying the program’s overall success, and governments around the world are watching closely to see how they might emulate India’s approach. Authorities in Somalia, for example, are looking to the advantages of biometric and digital technologies to leapfrog from having no centralized citizen ID system to becoming a modern state with sophisticated eGovernment services. Meanwhile the British dependency of Jersey is taking a bold step toward mobile-based citizen ID – secured, of course, with biometric authentication.
The benefits of biometric citizen ID also apply to refugees – perhaps more so. In many cases, displaced persons are made even more vulnerable by their lack of official documentation, which can limit access to services and cause issues with border authorities. It’s a problem for governments and NGOs trying to help refugees, too: Without proper identification, it’s difficult to effectively manage refugee populations, and can lead to security vulnerabilities with respect to terrorists and criminals posing as refugees. Biometric identification offers a solution, offering a reliable means of identification for individuals even when no other information is available. The UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, has emerged in recent years as one of the strongest proponents of biometric ID for refugees, working with member states and other partners to implement such programs. And some governments are now embracing biometric identification for refugees of their own volition.
They’re the cornerstone of democracy, and they’re also a growing component of the government biometrics market. Curiously, recent years have seen biometric voter identification embraced more in emerging democracies than in well-established ones – perhaps because the lack of well-established institutions calls for even more rigorous verification of the democratic process, or maybe because there are no huge institutional obstacles in the way of introducing this technology, allowing election administrators to leapfrog to cutting-edge election technology. In any case, there are signs that biometric voter verification is about to emerge in the West, too, with at least one US midterm election to see this technology used to let military service members vote from overseas.
While the above are some of the most important trends in the government biometrics sector today, they certainly don’t make up a comprehensive list – the market is just too varied and too busy to nail down in one place. So stay tuned throughout September as FindBiometrics continues to deliver the most exciting developments in the world of government biometrics – and be sure to keep a close eye on Fed ID toward the end of the month, where some of the biggest news is sure to be made.
September 6, 2018 – by Alex Perala