Human rights versus biometry

We may see a series of lawsuits in the U.S. The results are pretty unclear, but it is possible it will influence entire industry of ID documents and authentication technologies, anti-counterfeit protection. From many articles on this topic, we recommend the one from American Security Today.

The case demonstrates the development of authentication biometry, including inevitable results.

It was simple at the beginning. There is a portrait photograph, the most basic biometric data,  on a driving licence or ID card. The holder shows his/her ID document to a guard. Guard checks if the person is the same as on the photograph (authentication), and it is all over. This arrangement has worked for some 100 years.

The further step includes saving of photos in a central database. The guard can read a code or enter an ID document number and check if the picture in the database is the same as on the ID card. Even if data are transmitted through a well-protected line, there is growing risk of compromisation.  This new risk is actually a price paid for insufficient anti-counterfeit protection of ID cards. If strong protection was ensured fully, no central database was needed.

But creating centralised databases also opens other options than just stronger anti-counterfeit protection. Access to picture databases can also be given to other law enforcement units. Through connecting databases with street security video, they build a system of unlimited and uncontrolled monitoring of all citizens. Such systems that are already in place follow citizens of 16 states of the U.S.A. They are mostly accessed only by FBI but what will be the further steps? Moreover, current investigation challenges the assumption of always innocent motivation and methods of FBI. It seems that implementation of such system in NY is the milestone that attracts human rights activities attention and creates a wave of criticisms. Center for Privacy and Technologies of Georgetown University reminds that about half of Americans are currently watched.

What are the main objections?

Firstly. Civil freedoms issue. A basic rule says that watching of a citizen must be based on the court decision and authentication must be based on suspicious behaviour. It is because both watching and authentication are considered a significant intervention into human privacy. New arrangement counts with watching everybody without any limits. It is not about being included in security video but instead about the possibility to follow a person with revealed identity across cameras. This possibility is available not just to special anti-terrorist units but in principle to everybody.

Secondly. The systems make mistakes. Seizing of a wrong person is possible. Most of the technology vendors acknowledge the possibility of authentication errors. Even those who claim 100% reliability of their solutions are not ready to guarantee anything. A human guard can mistake as well, but human mistakes are incomparably less frequent.

It can be objected that this change is not so significant because a picture of almost everybody can be easily found on the Internet.  But only big unified picture databases enable unlimited watching, focused not just on suspects (or people wanted by the criminals) but instead on everybody. From the original effort to identify fakes and build a reliable authentication machine, we have moved to entirely other areas.

Moreover, it can be expected that if current arrangement is accepted, future technologies will enable including iris and other biometry features.

Entire this problem could be avoided. Manufacturing authentication documents with strong anti-counterfeit protection, biometric data stored in the card and implementation of seamless authentication process would be sufficient measures. Nobody would need a centralised database.


Optaglio helps through its products and services that include:

Continuous innovation and technological development to keep advantage against counterfeiters.

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