Citizen ID and Biometrics

As I have stated earlier on this blog: The solution to the single most frequent data quality problem being party master data duplicates is actually very simple: Every person (and every legal entity) gets a unique identifier which is used everywhere by everyone.

Some countries, like Denmark where I live, has a unique Citizen ID (National identification number). Some countries are on the way like India with the Aadhaar project. But some of the countries with the largest economies in the world like United Kingdom, Germany and United States don’t seem to getting it in the near future.

I think United Kingdom was close lately, but as I understand it the project was cancelled. As seen in a tweet from a discussion on twitter today the main obstacles were privacy considerations and costs:

A considerable cost in the suggested project in United Kingdom, and also as I have seen in discussions for a US project, may be that an implementation today should also include biometric technology.

The question is however if that is necessary.

If we look at the systems in force today for example in Scandinavia they were implemented +40 years ago, and the Swedish citizen ID was actually implemented without digitalization in 1947. There are discussions going on about biometrics also as this is inevitable for issuing passports anyway. In the mean time the systems however continues to make a lot of data quality prevention and party master data management a lot easier than else around the world without having biometrics as a component.

No doubt about that biometrics will solve some problems related to fraud and so. But these are rare exceptions. So the cost/benefit analysis for enhancing an existing system with biometrics seems to be negative.

I guess the alleged need for biometric may have something to do with privacy considerations in a strange way: Privacy considerations are often overruled by the requirements for fighting terrorism – and here you need biometrics in identity resolution.

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3 thoughts on “Citizen ID and Biometrics

  1. JoukoSalonen 9th January 2011 / 18:15

    This comment comes from Finland where all of us have citizen IDs. As a government IT civil servant I also can confirm that we use it a lot when we build GOV IT systems. It helps to solve many challenges, some of them data quality related.

    Biometrics for us is an answer to other type of “system quality” problems. We would, for example, like get rid of a situation where the same person may have many “citizen IDs” here or in several Scandinavian countries (which may, for example encourage him to make this a business where he/she commutes from country to country and misuses our social security systems). There are also some EU- immigration and border security systems related reasons to implement biometric identification systems. The state of art of biometric identification systems today does not really bring better data quality. For that citizen ID works a lot better.

    • Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 9th January 2011 / 18:32

      Thanks a lot Jouko for the comment from within the government walls.

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