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Primer on the multiple Covid roles for biometrics – it’s not just for tracing anymore

Primer on the multiple Covid roles for biometrics – it’s not just for tracing anymore
 

Just as the Covid pandemic encompasses much more than people getting sick, identity biometrics can have scores of positive and negative impacts on taming the infectious disease, according to a new white paper.

Researchers from IMC Worldwide, a consulting company focused on surmounting global problems locally, find that biometrics can have an ethical, measurably positive role in the battle, though there are caveats.

The report was funded by Covidaction, a program funded by UK aid, a government diversified aid agency in the United Kingdom.

Even in the biometrics industry, it is not uncommon for people to think of face and fingerprint biometrics in terms of tracing and tracking, a perception that could hamper the use and success of the technology in fighting the illness.

Those missions are large and important, of course, but the systems are also being used for humanitarian assistance and economic development, according to the paper.

With Covid surges comes massive unemployment and some migration. People moving to medical help or to leave economically devastated regions may not put a high priority on keeping their vaccination cards and they may never have had a physical ID.

Biometrics can be the unique identifier an individual never loses and never has to memorize.

And a biometrics program can be less expensive to operate for governments and nongovernmental organizations helping displaced people, too. The report cites a system deployed at a South Sudanese refugee camp that reportedly saved $1 million a month by foregoing physical IDs.

Weaknesses exist for the concept as well.

Beyond the familiar (data theft, links to unrelated data becoming an unauthorized profile, lack of standards), biometric ID revocation is harder than with cards. Creating two-factor authentication can be difficult to establish in a population on the move, making biometrics that much less secure.

The authors also reported on how biometrics can aid in the testing of new vaccinations and interventions.

Digital IDs being hard to lose, there are few chances for cross-contamination between test and control groups — a major problem when trying to prove anything about a Covid treatment.

They make multiple case report forms, which essentially are reports of duplicated IDs between trials and programs, less of a hardship for administrators.

And they make it much easier to assess treatments and side effects, especially in targeted demographic categories.

If the backend systems are not managed optimally, duplicate enrollments in studies can become the same problem they are for conventional ID concepts.

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