Biometrics edges ahead as legislative environment changes

Pressure from other governments is a likely driver of biometric adoption

An absence of legislative frameworks has slowed the adoption of biometric identity verification in New Zealand, but this is slowly changing, with changes to the Immigration Act leading the way.

Unisys biometrics expert Tim Hogan says most authentication initiatives are coming out of the public sector, but actual investment has been slow. In part, he says, this is because legislation is not in place to allow the use of biometrics, despite Kiwis being more concerned about identity theft than terrorism, according to the Unisys quarterly security index.

He says shifting authentication away from relaying on “what you know”, such as passwords and secret questions, towards “what you are” will help reduce such theft.

Hogan says he’s not aware of any plans to use biometrics in perhaps the two biggest authentication projects now under way, the State Services Commission’s Government Log-on Service and the Identity Verification Service.

He says one point where biometrics could come into play in those kinds of projects is when people apply for their identification token, to confirm they are who they say they are.

Hogan says deploying biometric technologies is about understanding the merits of it and mapping these to the requirements.

He says you apply what he calls the “seven pillars of biometric wisdom” to the problem and each of these has a pro, a con and a cost associated with it.

Hogan says since the 9/11 terrorist attacks biometrics technology has “leapfrogged”. He says he recently saw examples of 3D face recognition that were extremely accurate. These may be the way to go, as alternatives such as fingerprint scanning, still have a stigma attached due to their long-term use in law enforcement.

Hogan is part of Unisys local security practice. He recently obtained two accreditations, certificates in biometric security and biometric engineering, at a course held at the Unisys Innovation Centre at Canberra University. He says this is to develop the local skills base and expertise in consulting and is a natural add-on to the company’s other security offerings.

“It’s about being prepared for when it does come,” Hogan says. “We know government is looking at it and some will come because of developments overseas.”

He says pressure from other governments could spur adoption of biometrics as it did the introduction of chipped passports.

“The drivers are mainly external rather than internal,” he says.

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