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Biometric Authentication – The Shield against Crime in Africa and the World


Biometric Authentication – The Shield against Crime

The Rise of Biometrics for Identification

Biometrics are defined as the measurable biological (anatomical and physiological) or behavioral characteristics used for identification of an individual. The utilization of biometrics as a shield against potential criminal activities has significantly increased in the past several years as more people become educated on its benefits. Whereas police have long relied upon fingerprints for criminal identification, newer kinds of biometric technologies are springing up to identify individuals. The most common forms of biometric identification are fingerprint, iris recognition, facial recognition, vascular biometrics (palm and finger vein), and voice recognition.

A rising crime rate accompanied by technological advances throughout the mid- to late nineteenth century helped to accelerate advancements in biometrics that brought them into mainstream use for personal identification. This fundamental plan behind adopting biometric technology was to establish a system that identifies criminals with 100% accuracy regardless of physical or environmental conditions or limitations. To implement this policy, government leaders required the use of an identification technology that could identify habitual criminals with 100% accuracy who took previously took advantage of obscurity.


How is Biometrics used to Fight Crime?

Biometrics has been deployed by several law enforcement agencies all over the world for a variety of purposes. For example, the following examples demonstrate how countries in Africa are deploying biometrics for identification in law enforcement:

#  FBI: By adding palm print, face and iris image search capabilities with their existing fingerprint database, the United States FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) hopes to improve the accuracy of identity searches, make it easier to positively identify and track criminals as they move through the criminal justice system, and provide a wider range of tools for crime scene investigators.

#  Iraq/Afghanistan: The U.S. military in Iraq & Afghanistan uses biometric technology to screen out innocent civilians from the insurgents.

#  South Africa: The South African Police Service (SAPS) enforced a biometric system in 2001 to secure the Integrated Justice System (IJS).

#  Nigeria: 140 Million Fingerprint Database for Nigerian Mobile Phone Tracking Project was a revolutionary step towards eliminating SIM card fraud and criminal tracking.

Jail Management in U.S.A.: Many of the U.S. jail management systems use biometric technology to identify criminals & inmates.


Why use biometrics?

Examples of how biometrics are used in law enforcement within the United States show that the technology is working in a controlled setting as well as with mobile devices to help more accurately identify prisoners for intake and release and prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country plus its potential to help stop the illegal migrant worker entry into the country. Biometric identification is and can be used throughout the U.S. Justice system for a number of purposes:

Prisoner Management: Of the 272,111 persons released from prisons in 15 States in the  U.S. in 1994, an estimated 67.5% were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years, 46.9% were reconvicted, and 25.4% resentenced to prison for a new crime. By using AFIS for jail management law enforcement personnel can now accurately tell that the right person goes and is released from prison.

Illegal Immigrant Screening: Two Senators, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham presented an immigration-bill blueprint in 2010 to President Barack Obama that includes a proposal to issue a biometric ID card — one that would contain physical data such as fingerprints or retinal scans — to all working Americans. A biometric ID — can help solve the illegal migration problem. With systematic and effective verification for all workers, undocumented people would not find work and would not come to the U.S.

Driving License Verification: On January 23, 2008, Huntington Park police officers in Louisiana stopped a driver who had no license and gave a false name. After positive identification was determined by use of a mobile fingerprint reader, it was determined that the individual was wanted on a no-bail felony narcotics warrant. By using mobile biometric solutions, law enforcement can check not only if the legal owner is driving the vehicle but also whether he has any criminal record.

Justice System: Confirmation of the identity of individuals for court appearances, inmate processing, visits to correctional facilities, mortuary identifications (especially in the event of a critical incident), wants and warrants verification, sex offender tracking, criminal history checks, and queries across criminal justice information system databases. Also confirmation of identification of those with multiple, false, or no identity documentation.


Biometrics will become increasingly more valuable as a tool for verifying identities or for criminal background checks in a new and deeply interconnected security environment.  Law enforcement agencies should start utilizing this technology to ensure that the right person is being punished for his offence instead of the innocent one with speed and accuracy. However, it is important to note the civil liberty implications of employing biometric technologies and realize that the security must be balanced with the protection of privacy.   

Writer: Mohammad Shahnewaz is a Sr. Executive – SEO, SEM, PPC at M2SYS Technology and an occasional guest writer on Technology Africa specializing in identity management related blog posts, press releases and web content for my company.

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