There are those who ask for an identity card without a photo of the face

There are those who ask for an identity card without a photo of the face

In March 2022 in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, more than 100 women asked the government to have an identity card without a photo of their face. For Muslim women who wear niqabs, hijabs or burqas, showing one's face means breaking a religious principle. As reported by the Dhaka Tribune newspaper last March, the High Court of Bangladesh has also been involved in maintaining or not the fundamental requirement for the identification of citizens of any country, but has not yet ruled definitively.

The Mahila Anjuman organization, of which women protesters are part, believes that taking fingerprints may be sufficient to identify a person. A method also used in the rest of the world and which in Bangladesh, for example, could allow many women to withdraw from a bank account without showing their face. The Electoral Commission, a government body that issues identity cards and guarantees with them the right to vote in the country, reports to the Bengali daily that the lack of an identification photo could create unspecified security problems, and that the authentication of fingerprints digital is not always possible.

Problems of access to social welfare The biometric identification project in Bangladesh dates back to 2008 but only eight years later it became “intelligent”. Since 2016, in addition to the personal data of each person, the Bengali identity card also contains the imprints of the ten fingers of the hands, the iris scan and a unique microchip to avoid counterfeiting. The government's Digital Bangladesh Initiative aimed to distribute the card to 100 million people, while also opening up other services to citizens. The National Identity Card (Nid) also biometrically links to itself access to numerous essential public services relating to health, work (and retirement), vehicle insurance, possession of a sim card and gas connection and electricity.

But the government's forecasts have clashed with problems that are anything but irrelevant: in the same year as the launch in the capital there were technical problems and malfunctions of the software for collecting the iris pattern and fingerprints , events that made it impossible for all citizens who came to collect it to obtain an identity card. According to estimates by the World Bank, the number of people who cannot legally prove their identity reaches one billion, and mostly reside in Commonwealth countries. In Bangladesh, a nation with a Muslim majority and practicing, 32% of the population (more than 50 million people) over 18 do not have a Nid.

Fingerprints at risk There are countries in the world in which access to social rights is predetermined by the possession of an identity card, the realization of which however involves the collection of important biometric data. Not providing the latter means being excluded from an entire social welfare system. At the same time, using an alternative biometric data such as the fingerprint does not necessarily mean including more subjects within the system: in a country like Bangladesh which sees work in rural areas as the only livelihood for most of the inhabitants, having fingerprints not intact can be synonymous with social exclusion. Then there is no information from the government about the databases in which the biometric data collected from people are collected, nor about the methods of treatment and storage of the latter.

The issue of national digital identity and population identification is decisive above all in African countries, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where structurally problematic social conditions, authoritarian or semi-authoritarian governments are intertwined. authoritarian and religious issues that define the expansion of a biometric technology market different from the European or American one. All this does not stop the advancement of technological innovation in this field, represented by multinational companies that try to adapt technological systems to the most varied needs. In addition to those already mentioned, the use of the fingerprint as an authentication system is problematic especially in the Middle East and India, places where henna tattoos make it impossible - albeit temporarily - to detect biometric data.

Image demonstrating the area of ​​the face recognized by RankOne's periocular recognition algorithm.

This is why the American Iris Id trades in the region devices for the acquisition of the iris pattern, an identification tool also used by the national bank of Qatar: a totem equipped with a video camera captures the image of the face and the customer's iris, subsequently "scanned" and enabled to withdraw money without the use of a physical credit card. In 2020, the Rank One Computing company created a periocular recognition algorithm that allows you to perform the identification of a subject by focusing only on the eye and eyebrow area, the only part that even some veils worn by Muslim women would not cover. The American company, which also distributes its facial and periocular recognition technology to the US Department of Defense, is the same one involved two years ago in the first case of the arrest of an African American citizen following an incorrect identification by the recognition system. Facial of the Michigan Police.

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