biometric identificationGavi, the Geneva-based vaccine alliance, has partnered with Simprints Technology in order to provide more accurate records of vaccination for children in Bangladesh and Tanzania. The partnership hopes to use biometric identification methods to track the medical history of children under five. Because half of the children born in sub-Saharan Africa are not registered at birth, they lack an official “identity,” making it infinitely more difficult to access medical care and vaccinations for life-threatening diseases. This ever-evolving technology would allow doctors to administer immunizations at clinics to scan a child’s fingerprint, and immediately have access to a complete record of vaccinations.

What is Biometric Identification?

Biometric identification uses unique indications of a person, such as a fingerprint, voice recording, retinal scan or even an ear scan, as proof of a person’s identity. Major technology corporations like Apple have been moving towards this as a more secure mode of entry to devices like laptops or smartphones. As so many facets of daily life are digitalized, and with many people in developed countries possessing more than one device and countless online accounts, this method does away with the need for passwords and usernames. Instead, users may unlock their devices or accounts with their fingerprints or their face. Because of the reliability and security of this method, global poverty initiatives, like Simprints, are looking towards this technology as a means of accurately tracking medical history and practice.

The Security Risks

Though biometric identification poses many benefits, there are security risks to using this technology. Just as bank account passwords or credit card information can be hacked and stolen to be used for profit, so too can this more complex information. Hackers would not be stealing someone’s fingerprint or retinal scan. Instead, as technology like this becomes more prevalent, a robust online identity will be attached to individuals, geographic location, gender, and medical records. Access to this information may allow companies seeking a profit to contact a more specific demographic, and hackers may sell this information to people who may benefit from it.

These security risks are combatted by ensuring informed consent before any scans are taken and allowing every individual to determine for what purposes their data is used.

The Vaccination Record Initiative

Simprints Technology, a non-profit organization specializing in biometric identification, is providing the fingerprinting equipment for this trial. The company’s mission is to use biometric identifying technologies to fight global poverty, primarily by easing the minutia of healthcare. For example, these methods can also be used to increase maternal healthcare by more effectively tracking an expectant mother’s doctor visits.

In Bangladesh and Tanzania, Simprints and Gavi will work to create digital identities for thousands of young children. Simprints technology is so fine-tuned for this type of work that their equipment can account for the blurriness of a child’s fingerprints, and potential burning or scarring of the hands that is more common for people from this demographic. Once these programs are enacted, doctors or those working in medical clinics will simply scan a child’s finger to access a complete and accurate medical record.

Despite security concerns regarding biometric identification and its uses, this increased health initiative will safeguard children against preventable diseases. The program is a demonstration of how people with a desire to fight global poverty are doing so with revolutionary technology.

– Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

Biometric Identification in Refugee Camps
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 65 million people are displaced because of armed conflict and persecution. More than 21 million are classified as refugees, which means they are protected by international law and cannot be forced to return to places where their lives and freedom are at risk. The UNHCR is using biometric identification technology in an attempt to keep track of so many people.

The logic for protecting and helping refugees through global humanitarian networks seems simple. People who travel thousands of miles to escape dangerous conflicts should have a safe place to work, raise their children and live their lives in peace. Yet the global refugee crisis shows us that many nations continue to struggle to meet the needs of refugees at their borders and efficiently deliver social services.

For instance, consider the rapid increase of Syrian refugees in response to the country’s ongoing civil war. Amnesty International reports that, as of February 2016, more than half the nation’s population is displaced. Over 4.5 million refugees have poured into the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. However, global resettlement efforts have only managed to successfully resettle 162,151 people, a mere 3.6% of the total refugee population.

While resettlement is the ultimate goal of refugee relief efforts, Syria’s neighbors lack the resources and capacity to do it all themselves. Until other nations agree to take in more refugees, one way to help refugees living in border camps is to register them with the UNHCR.

Once registered, refugees are eligible to receive social and medical assistance from various humanitarian organizations. Refugee status protects adults from refoulement (forced return to their war-torn place of origin) and protects children from military recruitment. Registration also helps keep families together and gives them opportunities to contact other friends and loved ones.

The UNHCR is working to deliver faster assistance to refugees by implementing a biometric identification registration system. Currently, refugee camps employ a combination of methods to register refugees, usually involving time-consuming paperwork and fingerprinting. Not only are paper records increasingly difficult to archive as the refugee population steadily climbs, but fingerprinting requires training. The UNHCR hopes biometric identification, designed in partnership with Accenture, will drastically expedite the registration process and help refugees receive faster care after making the life-threatening journey out of dangerous regions.

Biometrics refer to a set of measurements and analyses of physical characteristics to verify personal identity. In the context of refugee registration, biometrics refer to digitally stored fingerprints, iris data and facial images. Once collected, the data gets encoded into a personal ID, which refugees can use throughout UNHCR facilities. Many refugees are forced to leave home on a moment’s notice, without enough time to collect important personal documents. Biometric ID cards can provide them with a secure form of personal identification to use as they build a new life.

The Biometric Identity Management System (BIMS) is designed to endure rugged field conditions like extreme heat, dust, humidity, power and connectivity outages. It’s relatively easy to operate, which is necessary in refugee camps where workers come and go on a regular basis and have varying levels of technological experience.

Accenture’s BIMS has already seen incredible success. The UNHCR piloted the technology at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, where it rapidly enrolled and verified 17,000 of the camp’s refugees. Then, in Thailand, the BIMS added another 120,000 individuals to the international database of refugees.

The UNHCR has proved how an integrated database of biometric identification information can meet the growing demand for greater security and efficiency in the registration process. Once fully launched, the system can be used remotely or in high-risk areas to register refugees, verify their identity and improve the UNHCR’s ability to keep track of their needs.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr