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Opinions of Monday, 29 March 2010

Columnist: Dankwa Jr, Fredua

Biometrics: Identity Management and Security in Ghana

This is a follow-up to my Ghanaweb featured article "Ghana's Biometric Passport challenges" in which I appealed to the Ghana government to take full advantage of the numerous benefits the new biometric system presents. Recently, at a conference in Chicago, I engaged a very well-known security expert in a debate about the future of the technology market. I was blown away by his convincing argument that the technology market will gravitate to where technology is needed the most - Africa. He said, and I quote "forget about bridging a gap, it's going to be a technological revolution".
There are few reasons why I completely agree with the gentleman. Markets have a natural tendency for self-correction, which means that eventually the need for the practical use of technological applications will triumph the targeting of affluent markets, a good example of that is the cellular technology market. According to market analysts, cellphone subscription in Africa rose from 54 million in 2003 to 350 million in 2008, the quickest growth in the world. Experts are forecasting an average cellphone penetration of 80 percent by 2012 in the African market; WHY? It's about practical application use and societal NEED. Can you say rabid market?
So why am I preaching about the obvious? Well, the phenomena of technology is such that there are always peripheral uses for any given application, fifteen years ago, we could not phantom using combo technologies of cellphone and voice recognition biometrics as a reliable remote banking application, but today, it is a very popular application used all over the world, especially in South Africa. My point is that, in this digital age; identity management and national security technologies are going to be super crucial for our socio-economic and industrial development as a nation.
With the deployment of our biometric passport system, the foundation has been laid for a robust identity management database system. It is worth noting that the long-overdue national identification program can easily be integrated with the biometric passport platform, the biometric enrolment systems if managed efficiently, could effectively be used for all our identity management problems including even electronic voters registration. As I said in my previous article on this issue, the deployment of the system is the easy part; its management is the real challenge.
In addition to its feasibility and viability, a biometric system must pass and periodically be tested for the following: • Circumvention and Reliability: how it withstands manipulation by fraudulent methods • Performance: the measurement of the biometric traits should be robust, accurate, fast, and efficient. It should have a very low FRR (False Reject Rate) also known as Type 1 error rate. • Non Universality: The system may not have the capacity to acquire meaningful biometric samples from all users in a consistent manner. A face recognition biometric system, for example may capture poor facial images of users with darker skin complexion than it would for users with lighter skin color.
• Goats: is the term for a biometric system end user whose pattern of activity when interfacing with the system varies beyond the specified range or threshold allowed by the system, and who consequently may be falsely rejected. The management team for the new biometric passport system will have to be well-versed and conversant with the developments in the identity management industry. As great as the technology is, biometrics is evolving rapidly therefore it is incumbent on the government to institute a continual educational program for the responsible officials. Let me emphasize here that the technology itself is not very expensive to deploy but comparatively demanding to maintain effectively. As I mentioned earlier, if done right; a biometric system and its database platform should be scalable.
For more information and other interesting articles on biometrics, identity management, and security technologies visit http://www.workstationtech.com or www.FreduaDankwaJr.com
Email: fdankwa@workstationtech.com