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Where Do We Look for Ideas When Implementing Trump's Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System?

M. D. McNally • DATE: February 10, 2017

Where Do We Look for Ideas When Implementing Trump's Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System?

Image Courtesy American Banker

This American Banker article looks at what other countries learned while implementing national biometric programs. It focuses almost entirely on the technology lessons and ignores almost altogether the social problems created by these programs:

“Many of the challenges the U.S. government will encounter in implementing a new biometrics identity system are the same ones that banks face. Both would be wise to study what other countries are already doing.

In the executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven countries, President Trump told the Department of Homeland Security to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the U.S.

The U.S. already fingerprints foreign visitors with a system that has been in place since 1994. The upgrade is being handled by DHS's Office of Biometric Identity Management, which did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

The Canadian Border Services Agency's NEXUS program, which has been using iris recognition to identify people for about a decade, is one place DHS could look for guidance.

"It has collected a lot of data, seems generally well run, has made adjustments over time, and seems user-oriented," said Kevin W. Bowyer, chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, who has studied reams of NEXUS data.

Canada's program is used by frequent travelers who register to have their irises scanned and undergo a background check in the hopes of a quicker border crossing. Hundreds of thousands of people use it.

One lesson learned from the Canadians is the effect of light on iris scans. Bowyer found that the systems were less accurate at matching scans in December than they were in September.

"We puzzled at this, then we figured out that it was because some of kiosks get a substantial amount of natural light," he said. Natural light is lower in winter. "Your pupil is more dilated, so there's less iris to see," he said.

There's also India's Aadhaar program, which has identified 1.2 billion citizens with iris and fingerprint scans. Though it's a national ID program, rather than a border-crossing program, it's another role model for the U.S., especially because of its large scale.

"They've figured out how to store and manage ten fingerprints and two irises from a billion people," Bowyer noted.

India should also serve as a role model to the U.S. because it has reached people in rural villages with low connectivity and incentivize them to participate with things like "no-frills" bank accounts, said Dakota Gruener, executive director of ID2020.

ID2020 is a United Nations initiative that aims to provide digital identities to everyone, especially the 1.5 billion people who don't have any form of identification, by 2030. It's also making biometrics part of its program.”

The Aadhaar program in India should also be identified as a warning. Based on public concerns, the Supreme Court ruled on October 15, 2015 that Aadhaar could only be linked to six government schemes (Public Distribution Scheme, L.P.G Distribution Scheme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employement Guarantee Scheme, the National Social Assistance Programme, Prime Minister's Jan Dhan Yojana and Employees' Provident Fund Organisation) and even then only on a "voluntary" basis.

Despite this ruling the University Grants Commission sent a letter in July 14th 2016 that made it "mandatory" for students that receive "government subsidies, scholarships and fellowships." Since then the Supreme Court has released this statement “We direct the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India to remove Aadhaar number as a mandatory condition for students’ registration form at the National Scholarship Portal…”.

So it appears fair to say that the final outcome regarding how effective the Aadhaar program will be remains in flux and the social unrest it has generated is likely to be equally strong in the US should the government decide to pursue such a program.

An identity program that has won tremendous public support is that of Estonia, which has been under attack by Russia and has focused on delivering significant benefits to citizens:

“Another country with a digital identity system worth watching is Estonia, Gruener said.

"They have done an incredible job of providing real utility to their citizens on the back of this digital identity system," Gruener said. "The first thing that happens to a child born in an Estonian hospital is they're issued their unique ID." All data is encrypted and stored in a system similar to a blockchain and consumers decide which entities may access their records.”

An interesting blog that compares the success of the Estonian program and contrasts it with the badly bungled Israeli program is available here;

Banks may learn something by studying the lessons learned regarding the technology, but the Mercator Report “Biometrics: A New Wrinkle Changes the Authentication Landscape” suggests that these huge programs are out of step regarding new technologies that are entering the market. Or banks could study how citizens react to biometric identity programs, but Mercator has studied consumer adoption closely in the Mercator Report “Biometrics: A Market Forecast for Consumer Adoption” which suggests how consumer adoption of biometrics can be made seamless.

Overview by Tim Sloane, VP, Payments Innovation at Mercator Advisory Group

Read the full story here.