Paper highlights positive biometrics role in developing countries
15 February 2013 17:57 GMT

Biometrics helping millions in underdeveloped countries

A comprehensive new white paper surveys 160 cases where biometric identification has been used for economic, political, and social purposes in developing countries. It highlights how underdocumentation is pervasive in the developing world.

The research underpinning the paper was performed by Alan Gelb and Julia Clark at the Center for Global Development. According to Gelb and Clark, civil registration systems are often absent or cover only a fraction of the population. In contrast, people in rich countries are almost all well identified from birth. This “identity gap” is increasingly recognized as not only a symptom of underdevelopment but as a factor that makes development more difficult and less inclusive.

The report authors said that many programs now aim to provide individuals in poor countries with more robust official identity, often in the context of the delivery of particular services. Many of these programs use digital biometric identification technology that distinguish physical or behavioral features, such as fingerprints or iris scans, to help “leapfrog” traditional paper-based identity systems.

The report notes that the technology cannot do everything, but recent advances enable it to be used far more accurately than previously, to provide identification (who are you?) and authentication (are you who you claim to be?).

The report says that technology costs are falling rapidly, and it is now possible to ensure unique identity in populations of at least several hundred million with little error.

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