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MOSIP spotlights biometrics trade-offs at Turing conference

MOSIP spotlights biometrics trade-offs at Turing conference

The Trustworthy Digital Identity International Conference 2023, held on September 14 and 15 in Bengaluru, India, hosted discussions about the necessity of biometrics in national identity systems, and a panel on the MOSIP project.

Officials speaking at the conference, which was co-hosted by the Alan Turing Institute UK and the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIIT-B), showcased the modular, open-source identity platform developed at IIIT-B, while laying out the key issues and questions facing countries planning to implement a foundational national ID system.

Sanjay Jain, chairperson of the Technology Committee at MOSIP, gave a brief round-up of how voice, fingerprint and other biometrics are captured and processed, and factors such as stability, feasibility and privacy that need to be taken into consideration when implementing biometric digital IDs. Failures to capture biometric data is identified by Jain as a common challenge for mass enrollment projects.

He spoke about the trade-off between accuracy and security thresholds, and the need to provide a single unique ID for every registrant – a key driver of India’s decision to pursue a system that uses biometrics for authentication, in a prominent example. For a uniqueness guarantee, the designers of India’s Aadhaar combined ten fingerprints with iris scans. (Face is also included as a tertiary biometric.)

Jain, one of the designers who built MOSIP from scratch, also emphasized the need for field trials to test for physical factors, such as the size of a capture device. In terms of implementation challenges, he listed scale, storage, cost, and security among the biggest hurdles in creating a functional, effective biometric ID system.

Decisions about how to use biometrics in a national ID system, therefore, must be made based on the various trade-offs these challenges set up.

Bypassing the developed world on the route to digital ID

MOSIP has been held up as a system helping to address national identity challenges in developing countries, designed and built in the developing world. According to Business Standard, almost a dozen countries have adapted MOSIP’s key core functional modules to create a national ID systems, including Morocco, the Philippines, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

“An Open-Source Foundational Identity Platform has the potential to support the transformation of the economy and support inclusive growth,” said Siddarth Sharma, chief executive officer of Tata Trusts – a backer of MOSIP, alongside the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Their recently released MOSIP primer is available here.)

“The lack of an established identity prevents the most underprivileged from accessing a host of critical services, including access to healthcare and finance,” Sharma said. “As a result, the widespread benefits of a digital identity system are becoming increasingly apparent.”

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