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Will Big Indian Brother Set the Global Biometric Standard for Big Brother?

Sep 16, 20105 mins
BiometricsData and Information SecurityEnterprise Applications

Privacy and security clash as DHS tests iris scans at the Border Patrol. But Big Brother in India starts iris scans, fingerprinting and facial recognition photos for 1.2 billion residents.

DHS will start iris scans at the Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, and claims it will destroy all biometric and biographic data at the conclusion of the project to track illegal aliens, ComputerWorld reported. Although this Big Brother biometric type of monitoring sends privacy invasion chills up my spine, it is nothing when compared to the massive and chilling Big Brother biometric scenario kicking off in India this month.

As reported by the government of India, 1.2 billion unique identification numbers (UID) will be given out to India’s residents. The 12-digit unique number, called Aadhaar, will be issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), stored in a centralized database and linked to “basic demographics and biometric information” – a photograph, ten fingerprints and both irises scanned – of each individual. 440 million Indians are below the poverty level and the UID is supposed to improve their situations.

The UIDAI Strategy Overview included the future of electronic transactions for which the need for cash might be eliminated for Indian residents. “Rural residents will be able to transact electronically with each other as well as with individuals and firms outside the village, reducing their dependence on cash.”

Although it is not mandatory for India’s residents to get an UID, a number of social services and some banks will require people to have one. According to Yahoo India, some privacy advocates warn that corruption previously infected the multitude of other Indian ID cards now in use for services. Additionally, putting all the personal information in one system could open the possibilities for it to be misused as “oppressive technologically-enabled surveillance.”

According to UID Project: Identity Crisis, “There are bigger worries that the project may completely change the norms of privacy, confidentiality and security of personal information. There are currently various pieces of information available separately and held in discrete ‘silos’ by the government departments. The citizen usually gives information that is necessary for any agency to do the job. While telephone companies may not know about your health details, your hospital need not know your income details. Its critics argue that the personal information of citizens is rendered all the more vulnerable to misuse in an atmosphere that encourages private participation in social service delivery.”

Earlier this year, China began issuing smart cards to its citizens. “The cards can also help identify those who use ATMs, enter a building with an electronic guard system or even pick up their children from kindergarten.”

Back in the U.S., Biometrics Identity Management Agency (BIMA) recently celebrated ten years of Department of Defense (DoD) biometrics. BIMA stated it is working “with the Air Force on installing the Defense Biometric Identification System (DBIDS) registration station at 70 Air Force sites in the continental U.S. by October 2011.” BIMA added, “We’re working more closely internally and with our inter-agency partners, to include Department of Justice/FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of State.”

Governments and organizations are wanting more than one technology on a credential, said Stephen Price-Francis, vice president of marketing at LaserCard. He added, “We are finding that our existing user and our potential customers are asking us to mix and match on one card platform…The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is one agency that makes such a request. The new Permanent Resident Card, or Green card, combines optical stripe technology with an RFID tag that can be used for expedited land border crossings.”

Could the iris scans by Texas Border Patrol only be a beginning to get us used to the idea of biometric security being hyped as a good thing? If iris scans matched with a photo for facial recognition software become the basis to prevent fraud, then the day might come when accessing online banking would require a web camera that would check irises for positive unique matches. Some privacy advocates worry that iris scans and cameras might be used covertly to track us. ACLU lawyer Christopher Calabrese told USA Today, “If you can identify any individual at a distance and without their knowledge, you literally allow the physical tracking of a person anywhere there’s a camera and access to the Internet.”

With India leading the charge, biometric identification is unlikely to fade away. In fact, it seems likely that more and more information will be linked to a centralized database that would change privacy forever as seen in this old ACLU pizza order parody.

Sometimes I think we really need to open our eyes before it’s too late…but I don’t mean for having our irises scanned.

Like this? Check out these other posts:

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  • Privacy Wars: How to Hide While Google is Watching You
  • EFF Warns of Untrustworthy SSL, Undetectable Surveillance
  • Microsoft’s Davis on Privacy: Your Digital Life Data is Bankable Currency
  • ACLU Report: Spying on Free Speech Nearly At Cold War Level
  • Full-Body X-Ray Scanners Driving Down A Street Near You?
  • Facial recognition: Identifying faces in a crowd in real-time
  • Google CEO Schmidt: No Anonymity Is The Future Of Web
  • Cyber-Warfare: U.S. Military Hackers and Spies Prepare to Knock the World Offline

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.