Biometric identity is sought for reliable identification of a person. As all identification schemes do, biometric identification also suffers from a phenomenon what I call Paradox of Trust: the more trustworthy an identification scheme you try to build, the less trustworthy it becomes.
Korea’s national identification number has met the same fate. First developed as a spy-proof identification system for all south Korean nationals in 1960s, many agencies and companies flock to rely on it, requiring the numbers as a condition for providing them with goods and services — to a point where so many companies and agencies have the numbers of many people and where so many functions of people’s lives have crept up on that id scheme, ranging from health, tax, education, business, etc. The name and number combinations became a holy grail for bad hackers because obtaining one person’s id number allows the hackers to interweave all different facets of the number subject’s life. Imagine so many agencies and companies keeping people’s name-and-number combinations in their databases, making themselves easy targets, when the value of the data for the bad hackers is great: the end result is massive data breaches, periodically wrecking havoc. I am not talking about one million there two million there as it happens in the US or other advanced countries. I am talking 140 million data sets as happened in early 2014 with 3 major credit card companies. Right now, the rumor is that you can buy 100 million south Koreans’ national id numbers for USD 100 where the country is only 50 million people. Financial frauds based on the numbers went rampant. No longer can national id number work as an identification system to a point where the government banned it.
That is what I am worried about when I worry about biometric identity. Companies and agencies flock to it for reliability but if you do not control function creep, it will meet the fate of Korean national id numbers.
One parallel issue to controlling function creep is access to identity databases. Agencies and companies may access the id db for identification purposes upon data subjects’ consent sometimes but without consent other times. In the latter situation where agencies and companies are either unmasking the identity of an otherwise anonymous person or obtaining the identifying data of a known person, they need to follow due process. As to law enforcement, the due process means warrant. So what is happening in Peru and other Latin American countries, law enforcement looking up the data base without data subjects’ consent or warrant, I believe, is a violation of human rights. Dangerous availability of unique identifiers must be controlled by containing function creep but also by containing law enforcement access through proper safeguards.
Back to the saga of Korean national id numbers, when national id numbers became incompetent, the government turned to mobile phones whereby people were asked to identify themselves through mobile phones. For instance, anyone setting up online banking will be asked to verify identity by submitting an authentication number sent to a phone registered to him or her. This scheme will work only when all mobile SIM cards are registered. Lo and behold, 2 years ago, the government passed a mandatory SIM card registration law. What suffers is the people’s right to anonymous communication. All electromagnetic waves between mobile phones and access points are registered to certain verified people. What will happen is more and more companies and agencies will require identity verification for the simple reason that a reasonable identification system exists out there via mobile phones. Then, more and more resources will be invested into hacking mobile phones because they become the golden gateway into various facets of people’s lives.