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Biometrics applications rebalanced in 2023 to address questions about age and liveness

Biometrics applications rebalanced in 2023 to address questions about age and liveness

The increasingly rapid growth of biometrics deployments and digital identities issued makes the field both challenging and rewarding to cover. Biometric Update published more than 3,000 news articles in 2023, plus 94 guest posts and nearly a hundred feature stories and interviews.

Many of the most widely-read articles over the past year highlight the year’s major trends in biometrics and digital identity. A selection of those articles is presented thematically below to illustrate those trends.

Some major trends of the recent past were much less prominent in 2023. An example is the consolidation and investment flurry of 2021, as funding announcements and acquisitions returned to a more normal pace. The potential sale of Idemia, however, grabbed headlines throughout the year, and may have set up a top story for 2024.

From national ID card projects to the critical importance of liveness and the emergence of age assurance as a substantial market segment, here is a sampling of some of the top stories of 2023 on Biometric Update.

National digital identity and ID cards

Governments around the world advanced plans for national digital identity systems in 2023. The most established like Aadhaar, are being used more often to do more things than ever before, while also facing ongoing challenges. Other nations are racing towards universal registration, while some, like the United States, continue to disagree on how to begin.

The many projects illustrate not just how far apart the countries are in their progress, but also in their approach.

Thousands of readers from Pakistan and around the world were interested in NADRA’s implementation of biometric ID verification to enable citizens overseas to assume power of attorney, and for SIM registration. Iris biometrics were added to NADRA’s database as a third verification option, using scanners from Iris ID.

NADRA is also supporting Somalia’s new project to issue a national biometric digital ID card.

National ID card programs in countries across the global south made headlines, from DRC’s launch in July to the biometrics catch-up phase of Ghana’s registration campaign for its digital ID, the Ghana Card, and a faster, more expensive card issuance process in Cameroon.

Increased ID card fees are just one of the later developments in Kenya’s digital ID system, which is now based on the Maisha Namba.

Zimbabwe announced efforts to upgrade its civil registry and link it to government services, and late in the year the World Bank announced $350 million in funding for Ethiopia’s Fayda ID.

Beyond Africa, the Philippines continued to expand PhilSys, and reminded public service outlets and financial institutions that they are obliged to accept the national ID.

A profile of Thailand’s blockchain-based digital ID caught readers’ attention, and Malaysia began registrations as 2023 closed.

Digital IDs also progressed in the Western Hemisphere, though more so in Europe than places like Canada. Countries including Austria and Sweden updated existing systems, but a lot of the progress made towards digital IDs in Europe is around reusable identity and digital wallets.

Liveness detection

Generative AI and deepfakes came to the attention of many people in 2023, bringing increased attention to the importance of liveness detection. Regulation is on the agenda, but new rules are mostly pending.

The technology that allows people to spoof voices became more widely available than every before, sparking an increase in fraud committed with generative AI.  By April, over a third of businesses surveyed by Regula said they had found synthetic voice fraud attempts. This, in turn, resulted in a new level of awareness among businesses and the public, which has in turn been fostered by the consumer press. This awareness has introduced the concept of liveness detection, whether in the form of presentation attack detection or injection attack detection, to a wide audience.

Within the field of biometrics, injection attacks (explained in this excellent Biometric Update guest post by Jumio CTO Stuart Wells) were the focus of more research projects and discussions at industry events than last year.

This is one of the industry’s more obvious trends right now.  With robust liveness detection becoming table stakes for truly secure remote authentication, injection attack detection is likely to be increasingly sought-after, along with tools that essentially create networks of fraud-prevention resources.

Age assurance

Age assurance technologies, and in particular facial age estimation, went through a rapid market shift during 2023, going from largely nascent to rapidly growing.

The most important development so far may be the passage of the Online Safety Bill in the UK, which governments and children’s online safety advocates in other countries are watching closely.

Less jurisdictions are opting for age verification to access pornography by reference to ID documents, with Virginia a prominent counter-example. France has opted for an age verification system with “double anonymity.” Age verification through digital ID appears to be a more widely-accepted policy for things like alcohol purchases.

AI regulation and digital ID governance

The negotiations around the EU’s AI Act were closely watched by the biometrics industry, particularly the rules around the use of real-time, remote biometrics (also known as live facial recognition) in public spaces. Several exceptions were ultimately put in, changing the full ban approved by the EP.

Data protection regulations in the United States continued their slow, state-by-state advance, but beyond the implications of AI and data protection regulations, governments largely declined to add compliance requirements for biometrics to the books this past year.

With facial recognition increasingly used by police and consumers in the UK, however, investigations of law enforcement practice and Pimeyes were initiated. In Australia, lawmakers were forced to scramble after it came to public attention that the country’s face biometric ID verification system, in operation for four years, had no legal basis.

Microsoft issued a report describing its attempts to self-regulate biometrics adoption, which included a claim that it has declined at least one U.S. law enforcement contract.

The EU also made the year’s biggest change to digital identity regulation, in the form of a new framework that sets the stage from the European Digital Identity Wallet, agreed to late in the year.

In addition to a number of steps towards digital identity regulation by governments, there were also a pair of prominent governance frameworks set out in 2023, one by the UNDP and another by the OECD. Both stress the importance of inclusivity and oversight, and the UNDP framework provides more advice on legal systems and procurement, while the OECD emphasizes cross-border interoperability.

Retail biometrics

Biometrics were deployed to numerous retailers in 2023, primarily for payments, theft prevention or age checks to purchase restricted goods.

Deployments of facial age estimation technology at in-person retail outlets are worked well in a UK trial, according to data released at the beginning of the year, sparking calls for policy changes to allow them to replace checks of physical ID documents.

The UK also led the way in real-time facial recognition as a way to identify people previously caught shoplifting. Facewatch has taken a clear lead in this market, receiving approval from the Kingdom’s data regulator shortly after it was declared compliant by the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

The adoption of biometrics by Panera (via Amazon) and Steak ‘n Shake (PopID) in the U.S. introduced the technology to many restaurant-goers, but Amazon and Starbucks were also sued over allegations their automated retail shops with biometric payments violates a municipal law.

Digital travel credentials

Digital identity for travel credentials advanced during 2023, restoring some of the momentum lost during the pandemic. Biometrics also expanded for identity verification at airports and border crossings, as well as to bind the aforementioned credentials to their bearer.

The upgraded Schengen Information System was launched by the EU in March. The SIS is a precursor to the bloc’s biometric Entry/Exit System, and along with ETIAS, the implementation of Europe’s incoming border control regime and its shared biometric records made many headlines this year. The ETIAS implementation, however, was pushed back to May of 2025.

Eurostar launched biometric gates with software supplied by iProov and Entrust in the UK. The gates are expected to help ease a border congestion challenge exacerbated by Brexit and, possibly soon, the EES.

Entrust Director of Business Development and Strategic Alliances for Identity Verification Jon Payne’s analysis of the rise of Digital Travel Credentials (DTCs) was Biometric Update’s most-read guest post of the year. It offers an apt summary of one of the year’s most important developments in digital ID.

The first trial of digital ID for cross-border travel within Europe began in August, involving Finland, the UK, and later Croatia. Watch for more trials involving more countries and regions in 2024.

Technical work

Technical standards and specifications advanced in several areas over the past 12 months, and testing that lays groundwork for future standards and specs also progressed in a couple of areas.

Among the news that caught the attention of the most Biometric Update readers was the paper mapping FIDO authentication to the EU Digital Identity Wallet, written by an IDnow executive.

NIST revealed a draft update of its Digital Identity Guidelines, strengthening the identity and federation assurance levels and revamping their risk management approach.

Notable testing contributions that made headlines this year include a study published as 2022 drew to a close showing infants whose fingerprints are enrolled four days after birth can be identified biometrically with high accuracy.

Establishing contactless fingerprinting as a mature modality will involve standards currently in development, and testing. NIST created sophisticated fake fingers this year to use in testing contactless biometrics capture systems.

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