Biometric data collection around the world

Marcus
Biometric data collection around the world

In recent years, biometrics have increasingly played a key role in the governance and operation of our daily lives.

Biometrics falls under two main categories, physiological and behavioral, and include fingerprints, retina scans, and voice recognition. The technologies are broadly used for law enforcement, civil identification, and physical systems access. Fingerprint payments and airport facial recognition are common examples.

The use of biometrics can be convenient for consumers and companies alike, but the data is also important for preventing fraud.

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There have, however, been instances where the use of biometrics have had questionable outcomes. One notable example was a 2018 wrongful arrest in Michigan, following an erroneous facial-recognition match.

Unsurprisingly, there have been growing concerns about the security risks of extensive biometric data collection, giving rise to regulations—as well as violations and punishments. Last year, for instance, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that amusement-park chain Six Flags had violated the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act by collecting biometric data of a child without their parent’s consent.

With these concerns in mind, let’s explore what 10 countries are doing with the biometric data they collect from their citizens.

 

United States

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, bank accounts, and voter registration.

Visitors to the U.S. are required to submit, and be identified by, a digital photograph and ten electronic fingerprint scans. Customers of many major banks across the country have been consistently using biometric identifiers (like voice-print authentication) for the past five years.

What are the effects on residents?

There is currently no single, all-encompassing federal law to oversee the collection and use of biometric data across the U.S. Up until now, state and federal laws regarding such regulations are situational and oftentimes contradictory. In fact, several tech giants including Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook have been self-regulating when it comes to what information they collect and how it will be used.

An increasing number of states have been rolling out biometric data privacy laws with specific relation to the necessity and depth of what data can be collected from users.

Conversely, the Department of Homeland Security plans to increase the types of biometric data they collect from everyone submitting applications (as well as their sponsors) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Applicants will now be required to submit iris scans, voiceprints, palm prints, and DNA (the latter only in cases where a genetic relationship must be established).

 

Australia

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, and bank accounts.

Eligible visitors to Australia, and returning Australian citizens, are able to authenticate their identities using an automated self-service border-control system called a SmartGate, which was launched in 2007. This system exclusively uses biometrics to identify travelers through ePassports and a facial-recognition scan.

As of June 2020, the Department of Home Affairs has introduced a new biometric system, called Enterprise Biometric Identification Services (EBIS), for visa and border processing, which will rely on facial images and fingerprints.

What are the effects on citizens?

According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), any organization which scans and logs your biometric information must treat it as sensitive information and only use it for identification purposes or to ensure national safety. Any citizen that feels their data is being mishandled can lodge a complaint with OAIC.

 

China

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, and bank account details.

Depending on your nationality, visitors to China are required to submit their fingerprints and a photograph.

Payment gateways like Alipay and WeChat Pay are extremely popular across China, with an estimated 75% of the population opting for digital payments. With this comes the use of biometric authentication for payments.

China has one of the largest national biometric databases in the world. Perhaps the most well known example of this is Skynet—no, not the AI antagonist from The Terminator, but it’s not far off.

What are the effects on citizens?

China’s Skynet mass-surveillance system encompasses over 200 million cameras that can track individuals and vehicles by using facial recognition, physical traits, and gait analysis to track and identify citizens anywhere, anytime.

In 2018, a man was arrested at a Jacky Cheung concert in Nanchang. He was identified among 60,000 other concert goers. What’s more impressive is that he wasn’t local; he had driven about 90 kilometers to attend the event.

As of early 2020, facial-recognition checks have been put into place that require facial scans be submitted should citizens wish to register a new mobile phone number.

 

Finland

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, and bank accounts.

Finland has a very high percentage of its population cataloged in a biometric database and collects such information as fingerprints and DNA profile data.

In late 2020 OP Financial Group, one of Finland’s largest banking providers, introduced a biometric bank card that uses fingerprints to authorize transactions.

Depending on your nationality, visitors to Finland are required to submit their fingerprints and a photograph.

What are the effects on citizens?

In 2019, Finnish police and customs were granted permission to use facial-recognition technology to stop crime. While the allowance has been granted, the infrastructure to support its full operation is yet to be complete. The Finnish Border Guard has been using facial recognition in its operations since 2005, but in a reduced capacity to the allowances mentioned above.

 

Sri Lanka

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, and bank accounts.

Biometrics are a fairly recent development for Sri Lanka with an e-National Identity Card (eNIC) set to replace its current national identity card in the near future.

Depending on your nationality, visitors to Sri Lanka are required to submit their fingerprints and a photograph.

What are the effects on citizens?

Sri Lanka has only recently passed a law to build a national digital database of its citizens to pave the way for a new national identity card. The new digital identity cards will rely on fingerprint biometrics and assist in the issuance of passports, licenses, tax payments, and voting.

 

Costa Rica

How are biometrics applied?

Passports and ID cards (pending).

Depending on your nationality, visitors to Costa Rica are required to submit their fingerprints and a photograph.

What are the effects on citizens?

Costa Rica has only recently begun issuing ePassports for its citizens. This comes after years of development by The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which also includes a program to build a national digital database and the introduction of an ID card that relies on fingerprint biometrics. This is an addition to the proposed incorporation of a facial recognition system.

All of these efforts are aimed at both increasing security and limiting criminal activities and will be made available to state institutions including the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), courts, and immigration bodies.

 

Pakistan

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, and bank accounts.

Depending on your nationality, visitors to Pakistan are required to submit their fingerprints and a photograph.

What are the effects on citizens?

Starting in late 2020, Pakistani Customs will establish a National Targeting Centre (NTC) that will utilize biometrics for identification and security. The measure will be undertaken for border security and prisoner identification.

There have been several issues in the past year with biometric efforts in Pakistan. Of note, thousands of Pakistani citizens have been unable to authenticate their identities accurately with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to receive relief funding under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme put into place as a response to COVID-19.

 

Estonia

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, and bank accounts.

Estonia is one of the most digitized nations in the world. The vast majority of the country’s standard governmental services are available to citizens online including several online initiatives to combat COVID-19. While a great number of the country’s citizens have sensitive personal data catalogued by the government, there is no central database and all information is fiercely guarded.

Depending on your nationality, visitors to Estonia are required to submit their fingerprints and a photograph.

What are the effects on citizens and beyond?

The digital applications of Estonia’s national identity card are seen as one of the most successfully implemented in the world. The card allows citizens for voting, banking, filing taxes, traveling abroad (with limitations), and even traveling on public transport. As convenient as this all seems now, there were several roadblocks in the card’s initial rollout. Namely that a prior version was prone to cyberattacks.

In 2014, Estonia introduced an e-Residency program, which is a government-issued digital identity that allows foreigners to start businesses in Estonia. The program is designed to encourage people to establish and grow online businesses, to be set up and run remotely from anywhere in the world. To qualify, candidates must submit their facial biometrics and fingerprints.

 

Uruguay

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, and bank accounts.

Biometrics are a relatively new endeavor for Uruguay, which only began issuing secure biometric eID cards in 2014. Biometric data is also collected from citizens at polling stations during election periods.

Depending on your nationality, visitors to Uruguay are required to submit their fingerprints and a photograph.

What are the effects on citizens?

In 2019, HSBC Uruguay partnered with Spanish biometric software company, FacePhi, to implement a facial recognition system for bank customers to authenticate their identities. The system will allow for account access through mobile and web using a selfie of a customer’s face.

 

Malta

How are biometrics applied?

Passports, ID cards, and bank accounts.

Depending on your nationality, visitors to Malta are required to submit their fingerprints and a photograph.

What are the effects on citizens?

In August 2020, the Maltese government announced the introduction of a new biometric identity card for its citizens. The new card will only be issued on an application basis as there will not be a national rollout, and are designed to further strengthen security against identity theft and forgery.

There is a nationwide biometric database but it only contains fingerprints of suspects, convicted criminals, and latent prints recovered from crime scenes. It is currently only available to the Maltese Police Force.

Are you concerned about how your country uses biometrics?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Read more: 10 countries with top data privacy laws

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