The universal adoption of biometric identification is inevitable in the modern world despite concerns about privacy and civil liberties from citizens – claims analyst
When focusing on the civil and military biometrics market we have to distinguish four areas in which this technology is applied in: border control, e-government, law enforcement and the military. It is evident that border control will have the biggest influence on the biometrics market growth in the next 10 years. The global civil and military biometrics market is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 14 per cent.
Since the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, there have been major changes in the area of border security. The majority of the developed world has already adopted chip-embedded passports or will do so in the near future. In addition to biometrics passports, there is a worldwide trend of installing additional technology that allows automated border control. E-gates, which let travelers to pass through customs without human intervention, have already been introduced in larger airports. Automatic border control gates are deployed in China on the Shenzhen passage and in some European countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain. And the increased importance of e-passports and e-gates will be the main driver in the border control sector with quality and reliability as critical factors for the market players.
E-government will also be an interesting market since the adoption of electronic identification and electronic driver's licenses will capture significant revenue. The global market is not homogenous though. In North America, a driver's license serves as a national ID card. Therefore, the government does not stress the adoption of electronic IDs. In Europe, new e-ID cards have already been introduced in some countries including Spain and Germany. Others, like Poland, where a national ID card is a common identity proof, are still reluctant to change their systems for many reasons - with high costs of the project as one of them. Russia also sees extraordinary potential in the adoption of smart technology and plans to introduce e-IDs in the near future with the aim of facilitating access to health or social services.
But the most expensive project in the world is currently undertaken by India where a national census and a unique identification deployment will cover the whole nation. The estimated cost of the project is $3.59bn. The e-government sector is expected to grow worldwide at the second fastest pace in the civil and military biometrics market with an annual growth rate of nearly 10 per cent. Law enforcement is the oldest user of biometric technology, even before it was digitalised. Currently, the automatic fingerprint identification system, or AFIS, is used by many police departments throughout the world. With the way wireless communication and portable devices have evolved, portable AFIS deployment will be just a matter of time. At the moment, in the United States, portable AFIS devices are used to verify the person in the field. This tool is a time and revenue saver for the police and taxpayers, thanks to its high efficiency levels and quick identification possibilities.
The military market although quite small and heavily influenced by budget cuts also utilizes biometric technology through the deployment of portable devices in Afghanistan and Iraq to verify terrorists. Another crucial activity in the military is access to strategic areas of the base or campus. With regards to access, control biometrics are used to decrease the possibility of an unauthorised individual gaining access to strategic information. There are some market challenges influencing biometrics adoption. For the market players, the greatest concerns are the high initial investments needed in the biometrics infrastructure - which can be extremely expensive, especially for large-scale or nationwide systems. There is also slow return on investment particularly in relation to systems deployed by law enforcement agencies.
Biometric technologies and their use by the governments also face considerable opposition from privacy and civil liberties campaigners and interest groups. They claim that these forms of identity verification are often offensive and invasive. Areas of concern include potential unauthorised or unnecessary data collection, unauthorised use, forensic usage, usage as unique identifier - which will identify the person and his day to day activities through the linkage of all activities and databases - and unauthorised disclosures as well as function creep or biometric information collected being used for different or additional purposes than originally stated by the authorities. The universal adoption of biometric verification is inevitable in the modern world. The governments as well as market players should focus on promoting the benefits of the biometrics applications in the everyday life, from increased safety through to quick access to information and effective resource management. The sooner this is acknowledged by the public, the faster we can increase security in elements of our day to day life. Krzysztof Rutkowski is a research analyst at the Frost & Sullivan consultancy firm