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Veiled Bangladeshi women urge fingerprint biometrics as alternative to photo ID

Veiled Bangladeshi women urge fingerprint biometrics as alternative to photo ID

Members of a Muslim women’s organization in Bangladesh demanded that biometrics be a replacement for photos on national ID documents to accommodate their religious beliefs, colliding with claims that such a carve-out would create security holes.

According to Voice of America (VOA), the Mahila Anjuman group is asking for biometrics like fingerprints in lieu of their face photograph on the National ID (NID), as they believe that under Islam, women are not permitted to show their face in public. The women who make up the group wear the burqa or niqab; veils that obscure the face except the eyes or all of the face. Due to their refusal, tens of thousands of women are denied ID cards and access to government benefits, Mahila Anjuman claims.

Sharmin Yeasmin, a spokeswoman for Mahila Anjuman, told VOA that fingerprints are enough to identify a person. “This sort of identification is not expensive now and is being widely used, along with photo identification. So we are demanding that it be the only method used.”

VOA reports that the issue has emerged as a contentious matter on Bangladeshi social media, as some argue that veiled women have democratic and civil rights to receive ID cards without a photo. The case has reached the courts, with Bangladesh’s High Court issuing a preliminary ruling in early March asking why the ID cards cannot be issued using biometric data in a case brought by a woman whose application for her national identification card without photos was denied, according to VOA. A ruling on that case has not yet been issued.

Detractors say that ID with no photos would create security concerns. “It is not possible to check biometric variables like fingerprints at all security checkpoints,” says Shahadat Hossain, a former election commissioner who led Bangladesh’s project to digitize national identification cards

Hossain adds that the question over photo ID was raised previously, and Islamic clergy ruled that women are allowed to have facial photos taken.

Religious Affairs Ministry Secretary Kazi Enamul Hasan emphasized the government’s commitment to resolving the issue so that all citizens can receive ID cards.

With face veils in the Muslim world creating challenges with photos and facial recognition, some companies have developed work-arounds that still use biometrics. Rank One says its periocular recognition algorithm can be used equally on people who wear the niqab. Iris ID promotes the use of iris biometrics due to the veils, and also because henna on the hands of women could impact the recognition of fingerprints.

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