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Teen takes top 10 spot in MIT program with biometric inclusive ID project

Teen takes top 10 spot in MIT program with biometric inclusive ID project

An Illinois teen is getting recognition for a biometrics innovation of hers to help indigent people globally identify themselves to access services such as for personal finance.

Elizabeth Nyamwange, 16, has earned a top 10 spot in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Solv[ED] youth innovation program. The innovation includes a solar-powered fingerprint scanner, which creates biometric templates and uploads them to a public server, with records pointing to the data recorded on a blockchain, Shaw Local reports.

Nyamwange’s idea involves sending fingerprint biometrics via a low-bandwidth protocol similar to text messaging. In an interview with WIFR-TV, she says she was motivated to enter the competition by her deep interest in women’s issues and gender equality.

Nyamwange notes that not having an ID means “you can’t open a bank account. You have no judicial protection, health care protection. You can’t work in the formal economy. You aren’t really recognized as a person under the law.” These vulnerabilities particularly affect women in underdeveloped economies.

Her idea, Etana, compresses fingerprint biometrics into a compressed format small enough to be sent over 2G networks. Nyamwange says the user’s biometrics can then be used to open bank accounts as well as other private and government activities.

Etana found fans in the Solv[ED] program, which rewards young adults for innovations with the potential to solve or lessen societal problems. Nyamwange was competing with more than 800 applicants from 148 countries, according to WIFR.

The top 10 finalists will share $200,000 to build prototypes. Shaw reports Nyamwange has been awarded $36,000 so far, and that each Etana scanner costs about $50 to make.

Organizations like the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and the World Bank say increasing access to digital IDs can play a role in dispersing cash payments to people in need and in delivering vital public services in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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