Identification of individuals is the basis for public safety. On the other hand, full identification and tracking of people is considered an invasion of privacy.
Orwell wrote a book on the topic and not so long ago a movie called Minority Report starring Tom Cruise addressed the same. Society is struggling to find the right balance. There is a clear trend towards stronger and more frequent identification.
Background – Resolving Wrong Doings
Historically government officials, notably police, identified people if – and only if – they were suspected of a wrong doing. They used many modalities, including basic biographic identification, fingerprints, pictures and eventually DNA. Each of these modalities was initially processed manually by experts, but over time automation kicked in. In the early stages, vendors supplied a specialized system for each modality and these system were relatively small, with hundreds of thousands of people, and were relatively infrequently accessed.
9/11– Preventing Wrong Doings
9/11 was a turning point for identification. Where historically police would label suspects after a wrong doing had occurred, after 9/11 everyone was biometrically identified when crossing a border to prevent any wrong doing. Initially US Visit identified aliens only, but stronger identification began to enter society as a whole with biometrics in national ID cards and electronic travel documents. These identification systems are huge, often in excess of a hundred million people, and are accessed very frequently. For example, a million people enter the US every day, and the same amount leaves the US every day. However, though the volume in these projects is large, the number of deployments is limited, and biometrics for public safety maintained relatively high price points.
UIDAI – Commoditizing ID
Where earlier ID projects had a relatively high price point per enrollment, the national ID project in India, UIDAI, changed the game once again. With substantially lower price points and unprecedented volumes, this large scale ID project must be seen as another turning point for the industry and society.
While the national ID projects at the top end of the market were undergoing this dramatic transformation to higher volumes and much lower price points, the commercial market was undergoing a similar transformation. Fingerprint scanners that were previously bulky stand-alone units became an integrated part of laptops and phones, which resulted in a separate high volume, low price point transformation of the commercial marketplace. With that change, identification technologies started the next phase of their evolution by becoming a consumer convenience. Health clubs have adopted biometrics to eliminate the need for members to carry identification; video shops use biometrics to identify members – no credit card required; even Disneyland now offers the convenience of speedy entry via biometrics.
As the accuracy of identification technologies improves, the volumes grow, and the prices shrink, their contribution to increased public safety will be a given, and these technologies will move into whole new realms of applications in both in the public- and private sector. For example, at a national level in healthcare making sure the right person gets the right treatment, in financial industry authenticating people performing financial transactions, in retail for convenient payment processing. The list goes on. Vendors like Black & Decker even sell biometric door locks for under $200. Soon, biometrics will be all around us. Will we care? No, read my lips, as it offers too much convenience!
Peter Went, CEO
WCC Smart Search & Match