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Opinions of Friday, 26 March 2010

Columnist: Dankwa Jr, Fredua

Ghana's Biometric Passport Challenges

Yesterday I listened to a report on Ghana Broadcasting Corporation(GBC) radio about the launching of Ghana's new biometric passports. I was quite impressed with the reporter's candor about the general lackof knowledge of the technology in the Ghanaian community. Take heartfolks you don't have to know everything about the technology to benefitfrom its features, furthermore much is not really known about biometrictechnologies, not even in industrialized countries. Generallygovernments are burdened with the responsibility of finding effective means of identifying and credentialing their citizens in other toefficiently streamline social accountability, the distribution ofservices, taxation, and of course the issuance of passports.
Biometric technology is the physical measurement and encoding ofbiological or behavioral characteristics (i.e. fingerprint, voice,signature or keyboard dynamics). Both the biological characteristicsand/or the behavioral traits must be unique to an individual and ableto be repeatedly acquired by an electronic device. As a challenge andresponse method, a biometric authentication is a pattern recognitionsystem that establishes a person's identity by comparing their binarycode of uniquely specific biological or behavioral characteristic(trait) to the binary code of certain stored data. Once a livebiometric sample has been converted into a binary code, it is comparedto the reference sample or template (previously stored during theenrollment phase) to determine that the claim of identity is genuine.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is the de factoworld leader in developing international aviation security policies, italso sets standards for the integrity of travel documents includingpassports and visas. In it's effort to address worldwide standard formachine readable passports (MRPs), the ICAO initiated the MachineReadable Travel Document (MRTD) Programme. Basically, passport-issuingnations are mandated to incorporate biometric features in theirpassports, by collecting and encoding biometric information of passportapplicants in electronic chips to be embedded in the passports.Airports and other points of entry are being equipped with gadgets forprocessing these new passports. The ICAO’s motivation for this newstandard is to facilitate uniformity across international borders andairports, expeditiously processing travelers through immigration andcustom points, and most importantly enhance global security and curtailthreats such as identity theft and terrorism.
In my humble opinion, this is a good time for the Ghana governmentto revamp our entire passport-issuing process. There are so manyadvantages to the use of biometrics features in our passports but wewill lose most of the intended benefits if we don't put certainsecurity measures in place or streamline our entire passportapplication processing. Biometric technology can only match the holderof a passport to the identifiers and biographic information in thepassport; it can’t determine whether or not the passport holder isactually a Ghanaian or entitled to the passport. I am not aware of anytechnology yet that can determine an individual's nationality. That canonly be done effectively by instituting an efficient passportapplication process with built-in human intelligence.
The non-Ghanaians currently holding Ghanaian passports will onlyhave to apply for the new biometric edition with their old passportsand credentials as proof of citizenship (and entitlement). I call onthe authorities to take full advantage of this switch over to weed outcriminal imposters traveling around the world as Ghanaians. Without thebasic technological infrastructures, intelligence and human oversightin place, Ghana could face an even worst situation with the deploymentof this new passport system. Recently a group of hackers successfullycleared immigration at Amsterdam Schiphol airport with a fake ElvisPresley biometric passport from a fictitious country to prove the pointthat people with the technological expertise could fool the biometricpassport system
For more information and other interesting articles on biometrics, identity management, and security technologies go to or
Fredua Dankwa Jr is a Biometric Technologist from Ghana. I
Name: Fredua Dankwa Jr.
Occupation: President & CEO, Workstation Technologies
Education: Msc, Industrial Technology from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana USA
Residence: Lexington, Kentucky, USA
Website: Http:// Blog: Http://