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Biometric technologies ditching bias, expensive scanners and centralization

Potential gains explored in online ID4Africa event
Biometric technologies ditching bias, expensive scanners and centralization

Advances in biometrics are holding out promises of greater privacy protection, higher accuracy and lower costs, the audience of the latest ID4Africa LiveCast heard from a succession of stakeholders and researchers.

The previous episode, this week’s episode, and the following one include a trilogy of examinations of best practices for sustainable digital identity ecosystems that include all stakeholders, ID4Africa Executive Chairman Dr. Joseph Atick shared at the outset.

Atick interviewed documentarian Lauren Anders Brown about her film in the first segment of the LiveCast.

Forged’ explores the difficulties faced by four Syrian families in acquiring identity documents and other credentials needed in their daily lives. Displaced people and others without access to ways of proving who they are in Syria turn to forgers and other desperate measures to get through everyday processes, from attending school to passing through military checkpoints.

The experiences of the people in the documentary demonstrate the importance of identity documents, legal ID and birth registration, and the impact of not having them.

“People who are undocumented want nothing to do with cameras or telling their stories or opening up,” Anders Brown says, highlighting one of the key difficulties faced by those working towards and advocating for identity systems.

Biometrics progress and new digital ID platforms

Patrick Grother and Shahram Orandi from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology also joined the LiveCast.

Grother gave an update on how to use NIST resources and the state of the art of face biometrics. The performance of the technology has improved dramatically even over the past two years, since Grother last addressed the ID4Africa community two years ago.

The talk ranged from how to chose the “best” algorithm to the role of image quality in matching performance, and the relation of each to biometric bias.

Grother says that the improvements mean “the applicability of face recognition is increasing.”

Rahul Parthe of Tech5, Tom Buss of Integrated Biometrics and NIST’s Orandi then discussed the progress that has been made in contactless fingerprint biometrics with Atick.

Parthe notes that contactless fingerprints are now useful for practical applications of biometrics, but with some conditions. Among them is the need for high resolution, as with a 5 mega-pixel camera, for uses like large-scale deduplication.

Tech5 contracted BixeLab to perform an independent benchmark of contactless fingerprinting to evaluate the accuracy of the technology in various scenarios, he reveals. They found that a multi-finger approach can mitigate accuracy concerns with contactless prints.

Parthe discussed the state of the art in contactless fingerprinting with Biometric Update in a sponsored post interview earlier this year.

Buss set out the scenarios in which contactless fingerprints can currently work well, and not so well. Generally, the former involves a legacy database with fingerprints collected on contact-based scanners. Many cameras in use around the world today do not allow the software controls that consistently produce good quality images for fingerprint biometrics, he notes.

Buss also warned against the use of AI to enhance fingerprint images, as it can introduce artifacts into the image.

He also discussed the progress of the technology and how IB and a partner won a recent NIST competition in the area with Biometric Update in an interview in June.

Orandi presented NIST’s work towards a certification system for contactless fingerprint capturing.

The organization revamped its testing plans after Covid hit, and is currently testing contactless print capture with the NIST Fingerprint Registration and Comparison Tool (NFRaCT). The next Special Publication is expected in November.

In the final segment of the LiveCast, representatives from Microsoft and Mastercard discussed their approaches to digital identity, and how they can be used to secure public and private sector services delivery.

Microsoft is developing decentralized identity solutions like Entra Verified ID using Verifiable Credentials, while Mastercard Community Pass is built as a shared interoperable platform specifically  designed to build inclusive digital economies, utilizing tokenized biometrics from Trust Stamp.

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