Biometrics – the automated or semi-automated use of physiological or behavioural
characteristics to determine or verify identity –
has received increased attention since the terrorist attacks of 11 September
2001. Governments around the world are increasingly turning to biometrics in
an attempt to increase security at airports and border crossings, and to produce
more secure identity documents. Similarly, biometric technologies are being employed
or tested in a variety of commercial applications.
This paper provides an overview and comparison of the principal biometric
technologies available on the market or in development, and examines some of
the concerns that have been raised about security and privacy with respect to
biometrics. It also discusses the use of biometrics by some national governments
around the world, including the Canadian federal government.
2 Biometric Characteristics and Systems
Any human physiological or behavioural characteristic can qualify as a biometric
characteristic as long as it satisfies the following requirements:
- universality: each person should have the characteristic;
- distinctiveness: any two persons should be sufficiently different in terms of the characteristic;
- permanence: the characteristic should be sufficiently invariable over a period of time; and
- collectability: the characteristic should be quantitatively measurable.
There are several other factors that should be considered when deciding whether
or not to use a biometric-based personal recognition system, including:
- performance: the recognition accuracy and speed of the system; the resources required to achieve the desired recognition accuracy and speed; and the operational and environmental factors that affect the system’s accuracy and speed;
- acceptability: the extent to which people are willing to accept the use of any given biometric technology for identification purposes; and
- circumvention: how easily the system can be fooled via fraudulent
In a biometric system, hardware scans and records the characteristic in question,
and software interprets the data and determines the acceptability of the individual
(human operators may also have a role in determining acceptability, depending
on the system involved). These systems operate on three levels: i) a sensor takes
an observation of the biometric characteristic; ii) the system describes the
observation mathematically and produces a biometric signature; and iii) the computer
inputs the biometric signature into an algorithm and compares it to one or more
biometric signatures stored in the system’s database.
Biometric systems may operate in either verification or identification mode.
In verification (or “one-to-one”) mode, the system verifies the identity of the
individual in question. The system validates a person’s identity by comparing
the captured biometric data with the individual’s own biometric template(s) stored
in the system’s database (or on a “smart card” carried by the individual). Identity
verification is usually employed for positive recognition, where the aim is to
prevent multiple people from using the same identity. In verification mode, a
crucial step in building an effective biometric system is enrolment. During this
step, each user provides a sample of the biometric characteristic in question
(by interacting with the scanning hardware). The system then extracts feature
information from the sample and stores the resulting data as a template. The
user interacts with the system again to verify that the data correspond to the
template. If no match is made, the process is repeated until a match is registered
and enrolment is complete.
In identification (or “one-to-many”) mode, the system recognizes an individual
by searching all of the templates in the database for a match. Since many comparisons
are made in identification mode, the likelihood of a coincidental match, or more
than one match, is possible. Identification is a critical component in applications
such as “watch lists” where the system establishes whether the biometric template
for an individual exists in its database.
3 Overview and Comparison of Biometric-based Recognition Systems
A variety of biometric technologies are either commercially available or in
the research and development (R&D) stage. Some of the more common biometric
technologies include those that are used for fingerprint, face, iris, and hand
or finger recognition. Biometric technologies that are in less frequent use include
those employed for the recognition of retinal images, gait, and dynamic signature
patterns. An overview of 4 of the most widely used biometric recognition systems,
and a comparison of 15 biometric techniques that are commercially available or
in development are presented below.
3.1 Fingerprint Recognition
The manual comparison of fingerprint patterns and ridges by police departments
to recognize individuals has been performed since the late 1800s. In the late
1960s and early 1970s, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
began funding the R&D of relevant technologies, which
resulted in the development of a semi-automated system for fingerprint recognition.
Technological advances have led to the availability of rapid, completely automated,
commercial fingerprint systems for verification purposes. Fingerprint systems
that are used for large-scale identification (“one-to-many”) purposes require
information from all 10 fingers (rather than just 1), and human examiners
are necessary in some cases for the final comparison of fingerprints. The sensor
used to collect the digital image of a fingerprint surface can be optical (the
most commonly used), capacitive, ultrasonic or thermal in nature.
Recognition via fingerprints is highly accurate, difficult to circumvent (for
sophisticated systems) and generally inexpensive. The technology is not unobtrusive,
however, and there is some stigma attached to providing fingerprints because
of links between the technology and the criminal justice system.
3.2 Face Recognition
Early face recognition algorithms used simple geometric models. The first
semi-automated face recognition system was developed in the 1960s. It required
the administrator to locate features (such as eyes, ears, nose, and mouth) on
the photographs before the system measured distances and ratios to a common reference
point, which were then compared to reference data. Today’s automated face recognition
technologies employ sophisticated mathematical representations and matching processes.
The verification performance of commercially available face recognition systems
depends on how the facial images are obtained. These systems have difficulty
in recognizing a face from images captured from two drastically different views
and under different lighting conditions. Some analysts question whether the face
itself, without any contextual information, is a sufficient basis for recognizing
a person with an extremely high level of confidence from a large number of identities.
3.3 Iris Recognition
The iris is a muscle within the eye that regulates the size of the pupil,
controlling the amount of light that enters the eye. Every iris has a highly
detailed and unique texture whose striations, pits and furrows allow for recognition
of individuals. Automated iris recognition systems are relatively recent – the
first patent for the algorithm was issued in 1994, and the first commercial products
became available in 1995. These systems work by illuminating the iris with near-infrared
light (which is harmless to the eye) and then taking a picture of the iris with
a high-quality digital camera. The random patterns within the iris are then encoded
mathematically, and the resulting “iris codes” are compared statistically to
one or more templates.
Since it is difficult to surgically alter the iris, and because artificial
irises (e.g., contact lenses) are easy to detect, it is relatively difficult
to circumvent an iris recognition system. Such systems are very accurate (as
long as enrolment is successful) and fast, obtaining results in a matter of seconds.
One of the drawbacks of iris recognition systems is that they are not widely
accepted by the public as a recognition tool largely because of (unfounded) fears
that infrared light can damage the eye.
3.4 Hand/Finger Recognition
Hand geometry biometric recognition systems have been on the market since
the 1980s, and are in use in hundreds of locations around the world. These systems
measure and record the length, width, thickness, and surface area of an individual’s
hand. A camera captures an image of the hand from above, and angled mirrors allow
a side image to be taken as well. A verification template is created and compared
to the template created at enrolment.
Hand geometry systems are widely employed because they are easy to use, widely
accepted by the public, and relatively inexpensive. One of the disadvantages
of the hand geometry characteristic is that it is not unique, thus limiting the
applications of such systems to verification, rather than identification tasks.
3.5 Comparison of Biometric-based Recognition Systems
A number of other biometric techniques are either commercially available or
in the R&D stage. A comparison of 15 biometric identifiers based on 7 factors
is presented in Table 1 (for a description of the factors presented in the
table see the earlier section entitled “Biometric Characteristics and Systems”).
Table 1 – Comparison of Various Biometric Technologies
(H = High, M = Medium and L = Low)
|Source: Anil K. Jain, Arun Ross, and Salil Prabhakar,
“An Introduction to Biometric Recognition,” IEEE Transactions on
Circuits and Systems for Video Technology, Vol. 14, No. 1, January 2004.
4 Technological Limitations of Biometric Systems
4.1 Accuracy of Biometric Systems
The accuracy of a biometric recognition system is characterized by two error
- the false rejection rate, where the system identifies two biometric measurements
from the same person as being from two different persons; and
- the false acceptance rate, where biometric measurements from two different
persons are identified as being from the same person.
These two error statistics are related, and there is a trade-off between the
two rates in every biometric system. Both rates are functions of the system’s
“decision threshold” – a value determined by the system’s designer or operator
that defines when a match is declared. Scores above the threshold value are designated
as a “match” and scores below the threshold are designated as “non-match.” If
the threshold is decreased to make the system more tolerant to input variations
and noise, then the false acceptance rate increases. On the other hand, if the
threshold is raised to make the system more secure, then the false rejection
rate increases. The point at which a system’s false rejection rate is equal to
the false acceptance rate is known as the equal error rate. The smaller this
rate, the more accurate the system as it indicates a good balance in sensitivity.
Besides the above error rates, the failure-to-capture rate and the failure-to-enrol
rate are also used to summarize the accuracy of a biometric system.
Accuracy claims provided by equipment vendors must be carefully scrutinized
- only one of the statistics described above may be cited by vendors
to support their claims;
- accuracy rates provided by vendors generally have
been determined from tests or operations with small-scale recognition systems
under controlled conditions; and
- the accuracy requirements of a biometric
system are dependent on whether the system is being used for verification or
4.2 Vulnerability of Biometric Systems
Biometric systems may be compromised either by design or by accident. Systems
are vulnerable to damage or attack at the level of the device or associated equipment,
at the user interface, and at the level of the system. Devices may be vulnerable
to spoofing (circumvention by an impostor); environmental degradation or physical
attack; and damage to cables, wires and other communication conduits. At the
level of the system, algorithms and templates may be susceptible to hacker attacks;
data may be vulnerable to deletion, alteration or theft at the administrator
or account level; and software components (e.g., drivers) may be vulnerable to
attack. Employing multimodal biometric systems that use several technologies
and data from multiple biometric characteristics is one method of dealing with
some of the accuracy and vulnerability limitations described above.
It should also be noted that, in terms of verifying identity, biometrics can
only confirm that the person being inspected is the same person that enrolled
in the system; if that individual used bogus “foundation” documents (e.g., birth
certificates) to enrol, the system will not confirm the true identity of the
5 Other Concerns About Biometric Systems
5.1 Privacy Issues
5.1.1 Mass Surveillance and Related Concerns
Many civil liberties advocates object to the use of biometrics (and other
recognition tools) because they see them as part of an increasing trend toward
a “surveillance society” in which governments and private corporations are collecting
increasing amounts of personal data, sometimes without justification. These advocates
suggest that governments should not be tracking individuals or violating privacy
unless there is evidence of wrongdoing. A
related concern with respect to some biometric-based systems (e.g., face recognition)
is that surveillance can be conducted without the consent or even the knowledge
of the individuals involved.
5.1.2 Function Creep
Another privacy concern expressed about biometric-based recognition systems
relates to “function creep,” which is the term used to describe the expansion
of a process or system in which data collected for one specific purpose are subsequently
used for another unintended or unauthorized purpose. An example of function creep
is the use of Social Security numbers in the United States. In the 1930s, when
these numbers were first issued, the government made assurances that the numbers
would be used only to keep track of a person’s contributions to or eligibility
for benefits from the Social Security system. Today, however, Social Security
numbers are used widely by US government agencies and private corporations to
identify individuals, and they are often stolen by individuals involved in identity
theft. Federal legislation to restrict the use of Social Security numbers has
been enacted or proposed to help curb this activity.
5.1.3 Outdated Privacy Legislation
Some privacy advocates note that increased surveillance with new technologies
by governments (and private corporations) has not been accompanied by changes
to legislation to ensure that privacy is being protected. In Canada, for example,
the Privacy Act places obligations on some 150 federal government
departments and agencies to respect privacy rights by limiting the collection,
use and disclosure of personal information. The
Act, which came into force in 1983, has not been substantially amended since
its introduction. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has stated that, because
of technological and other changes, the privacy landscape has changed radically
over the last 20 years and the Act is an “outdated law that leaves the Office
of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada virtually powerless to protect the privacy
rights of Canadians relating to information collected, used and disclosed by
the federal government.” In
2008 and 2009, the Privacy Commissioner noted that a full parliamentary review
of the Act might not be conducted for some time, and that in the meantime the
government could implement some immediate changes to the Privacy Act that
might help address some of its more substantial shortcomings. In
2009, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy
and Ethics released a report echoing the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations
for changes to the Privacy Act.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner is not opposed to the use of biometrics
under the appropriate circumstances. The Office believes that biometric-based
recognition tools, when properly handled, can actually enhance individuals’ privacy
and control of their own identity. However, misuse of biometrics can lead to
“undesirable” privacy invasions. The Office examines the use of biometrics on
a case-by-case basis. It is of the opinion that “any privacy-invasive measure
being proposed must be demonstrably necessary in order to meet some specific
need, it must be likely to be effective in achieving its intended purpose, the
intrusion on privacy must be proportional to the security benefit to be achieved
and it must be demonstrable that no other, less privacy-intrusive measure would
suffice to achieve the same purpose.”
5.2 Implementation and Operating Costs
Another concern about employing biometrics as a recognition tool is the cost
of implementing and running these systems. Although some biometric systems used
in corporate settings on a small scale may be relatively inexpensive to install
and maintain, the lifetime cost of other, more sophisticated systems intended
for large-scale operations may be prohibitive for some operators (including governments).
Costs for such systems include not only the initial capital expenditures for
hardware and software, but also costs for issuing identity documents (in some
cases), training and employing staff, maintaining equipment and managing databases.
6 Use of Biometric Systems by World Governments
Various governments around the world are either employing or considering deploying
biometric-based systems for identification and verification purposes. A survey
of some of the major systems (or programs) in use or under development by national
governments in the United States and the United Kingdom, and by Member States
of the European Union is presented below. The situation in Canada with respect
to the employment of or plans for biometric-based recognition by the federal
government is also discussed.
6.1 United States
Not surprisingly, given increased security concerns, the United States government
is a world leader in the introduction of biometric-based technologies for verification
and identification purposes. It already has several programs and systems in use
or in the planning stage that employ biometrics; some of the most important of
these are described below.
6.1.1 Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the US Department of Justice
maintains IAFIS, an automated 10-fingerprint matching system that captures rolled
prints. IAFIS became
operational in 1999, and with fingerprints for more than 55 million subjects
on file, it is the largest biometric database in the world. In
2008, the FBI announced that it will be expanding IAFIS with the development
of the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System. The
NGI project, led by Lockheed Martin, will expand finger identification capabilities
and allow for the incorporation of multimodal biometrics such as palm, iris and
6.1.2 United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) Program
The US-VISIT program, established by the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and launched in 2004, collects, maintains, and shares information,
including biometric identifiers, on selected foreign nationals applying
for visas or arriving at US ports of entry. US-VISIT uses digital finger
scans and photographs to screen persons against watch lists (of criminals, terrorists
and immigration violators), and to verify that a visitor is the person who was
issued a visa or other travel document. The DHS has also been working on implementing
a biometric exit system. During pilot programs conducted at selected airports
in 2009, selected foreign nationals had to confirm their departure by having
their visas or passports scanned and by undergoing finger scanning. Biometric data are stored in the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) database, and include fingerprint information from the FBI’s IAFIS. Full integration of IDENT and IAFIS is a goal.
The program has been criticized by the US Government Accountability Office
(GAO) on several occasions with respect to system security, privacy and cost.
The latest GAO report to the DHS (November 2009) highlighted the lack of
an integrated and reliable schedule in implementing an exit solution at the nearly
300 US ports of entry. The DHS is currently evaluating the future of the US-VISIT air exit program.
6.1.3 Registered Traveler (RT) Program
The RT Program, intended as a voluntary, fee-based, market-driven initiative,
was operated by the (US) Transportation Security Authority (TSA) as a pilot project
between 2006 and 2008. Since July 2008, the program has been offered solely
by the private sector with minimal government oversight. Companies
that enrol participants in the program collect fingerprints, iris biometrics
and basic biographical information from applicants (e.g., frequent flyers). The
information collected is then analysed by the DHS to conduct “threat screening”
in advance of travel for individuals participating in the program. Participants
then have access to specialized RT lanes where their identity is authenticated
using biometric data stored on their RT access card. In theory, RT participants
are provided with expedited screening at participating airports.
The program has been criticized since its inception by groups such as the
Air Transport Association of America and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The TSA effectively withdrew its support of the program in 2008 when it stopped
accepting the RT card as a primary form of identification, ceased its involvement
in the screening of new applicants, and began to insist that RT members go through
the same airport security checks as the general public. According to news reports,
TSA officials have even remarked that the RT program offers no security benefit.
Originally, four interoperable RT programs were available to travellers. The
largest of the programs, Clear and its parent company Verified Identity Pass,
Inc., ceased all RT operations on 22 June 2009. After
the demise of Clear, the remaining RT programs suspended their operations indefinitely.
6.1.4 Electronic Passport (e-Passport)
As of August 2007, all passports issued in the United States are “e-passports”
that include a digital photograph used for face recognition at ports of entry.
Several security measures were put in place to ensure that information stored
on the passport chip cannot be read or accessed without the holder’s knowledge:
a radio frequency blocker in the passport cover prevents an unopened document
from being read, Basic Access Controls (BAC) reduce the likelihood of “skimming,” “eavesdropping” and
“tracking,” and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) prevents document cloning.
6.1.5 Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
Established in 2007 as a result of the
Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA), TWIC was fully implemented by 15 April 2009 as a means of enhancing
port security. Administered by the TSA and the US Coast Guard, TWIC has enrolled
over a million “Coast Guard-credentialed merchant mariners, port facility employees,
long-shore workers, truck drivers, and others requiring unescorted access to
secure areas of maritime facilities and vessels regulated by MTSA.” Workers
who have passed the security screening are issued biometric cards that contain
a digital photograph and fingerprints for identity authentication. Although at
this time TWIC is applicable only to workers at maritime ports, the Aviation
Transportation Security Act provides
for the use of biometric technology with airport employees.
6.2 United Kingdom
6.2.1 Electronic Passport (e-Passport)
The United Kingdom began to issue biometric electronic passports in March 2006.
Currently, the only biometric identifiers used in these e-passports are the holder’s
facial features. The e-passports can be used to cross automated passport control
gates that use face recognition technology at an increasing number of UK and
European Economic Area (EEA) airport terminals. The
government intends to maintain parity with EU standards and to introduce a “second
generation” e-passport with fingerprints by 2012.
6.2.2 National Identity Card
In 2006, the British Parliament passed legislation to introduce biometric-based
national identity (ID) cards that can be used instead of a passport by UK citizens
travelling within the EEA and Switzerland. The
card chip will hold a limited amount of information, including a facial image
and two fingerprints, but will be backed up by databases holding further personal
This plan has moved ahead amid significant popular and political opposition.
The many objections that have been raised against the ID card initiative include
the cost of the project, doubts about its effectiveness at stamping out illegal
immigration and identity fraud, the security of the National Identity Register
(NIR) database and the possibility of “function creep.” Since
2008, the card has been required for certain (non-EU) foreign nationals wishing
to extend their stay in the United Kingdom on student or marriage/civil partnership
visas. Currently, voluntary pilot projects are being run among air industry staff
and for residents of certain geographical areas. Because of its politically sensitive
nature, the government has been cautious in releasing a long-term plan for the
ID card. Government officials claim to want to keep the ID card optional; however,
as it stands, beginning in 2011–12 all those over the age of 16 applying for
a passport will have their personal and biometric information added to the NIR
6.2.3 Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS)
This voluntary scheme currently operating at four UK airports allows certain
pre-approved categories of traveller (including UK citizens and permanent residents)
to gain expedited access through border control. Pre-registered travellers have
their iris scanned and checked against the record on the database at automated
6.3 European Union Electronic Passport
Likely in response to (non-binding) standards set by the
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations, and requirements
put in place by the US government for its US-VISIT Program, Member States of
the European Union (EU) have begun to include biometric identifiers in passports.
Under the US-VISIT program, as of 26 October 2006 the 36 countries that are participating
in the US visa waiver program must issue “passports with an integrated chip containing
the information from the data page.”
The ICAO endorses the use of standardized, digitally stored facial images
as the globally interoperable biometric for machine-assisted identity verification.
It has selected high-capacity, contactless integrated circuit chips (that operate
at radio frequencies) to store identification information in machine-readable
travel documents as the standard for storage devices.
In 2004, the European Commission issued a regulation (which is binding for
all Member States except the United Kingdom and Ireland)
that sets out minimum security standards for passports and travel documents. The
regulation stipulates that passports and travel documents shall include a storage
medium that shall contain a facial image, and that the documents shall also include
two fingerprints in interoperable (across the EU) formats. All Member States
had until June 2009 to start issuing passports with the fingerprint requirement. For
the time being, the EU does not require fingerprints for children under the age
of 12, and member countries have until 2012 to complete the changeover to the
new passport standard. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, which are not part of
the European Union, are also expected to make this transition.
Before the implementation of the European Commission regulation on biometric
passports, European civil liberties and privacy groups warned that the European
Parliament was rushing to establish an unnecessary policy, as even the ICAO did
not regard fingerprint and iris biometric identifiers to be essential components
of travel documents. They also pointed out that since only two fingerprints would
be taken, the error rate for an EU-wide database would be relatively high if
it were used for identification (rather than verification) purposes. More
recently, in Switzerland, opponents of biometric passports nearly won a public
referendum on their deployment. Several political parties were particularly opposed
to the central fingerprint database, which is not required under the EU initiative. Similar
objections have been raised in other countries, such as the Netherlands, where
a civil rights group has launched legal action at the European Court of Human
Rights and is currently awaiting a final verdict on the matter.
6.4 Some Other Biometric Initiatives in the EU
In addition to its current electronic passports, Germany is planning to introduce
new electronic ID cards in November 2010. ID cards or Personalausweis are
already mandatory for all citizens above the age of 16. The new radio-frequency–enabled
chip will store personal information, a digital photograph, two fingerprints
(with a possibility of opting out), and
an electronic signature. The PIN-protected card, which is valid for travel within
the EU, is said to provide citizens with greater control over what information
is accessed, and allows for safer online transactions.
Since 2008, Portugal has been implementing a Citizen Card to replace the existing
identity card, taxpayer card, Social Security card, voter’s card and National
Health Service user’s card. This “smart card” will include the same biometric
identifiers as the Portuguese e-passport (digital photograph and digital signature)
and will be secured by a PIN number.
The Canadian federal government, either alone or in collaboration with the
US federal government, employs biometric-based technologies in several programs.
It is likely that the use of these technologies will increase, especially in
light of changes to international passport standards and to passport requirements
for travel to the United States. A description of the major federal initiatives
involving biometric technologies is provided below.
6.5.1 Real Time Identification (RTID) Program
Since 2004, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has been involved in
the overhaul of its fingerprint identification system to “improve the search,
classification, and maintenance of fingerprints in Canada’s national fingerprint
and criminal record repository.” The
first phase of the RTID project, which includes the replacement of the Automated
Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), was completed in September 2008.
RTID allows for the electronic submission of fingerprints to the RCMP, “real-time”
identification (which reduces turnaround time from weeks and months to hours
and days), and streamlined international information-sharing. Phase 2, due
to be completed in late 2010, includes the replacement of legacy systems involved
in the management and updating of criminal records.
Canadian Passenger Accelerated Service System (CANPASS) Air
CANPASS Air is one of five Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) CANPASS programs
intended to expedite the border clearance process for “frequent, low-risk, pre-approved
travellers into Canada.” The program, which is currently available at
eight Canadian airports, uses iris recognition technology to verify a passenger’s
identity. Under the program, citizens and permanent residents of Canada or the
United States who wish to participate in the program undergo security checks
at registration and every year upon renewal. For an annual fee (currently $50),
members of the program receive an identification card that enables them to use
the self-serve CANPASS Air kiosks at airports where their iris is photographed
and the image compared to that stored in the database. Once their identity is
confirmed, individuals then proceed to baggage claim and leave the customs premises
without further interaction with a CBSA officer unless they are selected randomly for inspection.
NEXUS, a binational,
fee-based program operated jointly by the CBSA and the US Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) agency, arose from the Canada–United States 30‑point Action
Plan of the Smart Border Declaration signed in December 2001. The
NEXUS card, a passport alternative, allows for an expedited border clearance
process for low-risk, pre-approved travellers at designated air, sea and land
entry points between Canada and the United States. Biometrics (fingerprints)
are taken as part of the application process to perform a background check.
For air travellers, the program works in a similar fashion to CANPASS Air
by employing iris recognition technology at eight international airports in Canada.
Once an individual’s identity has been confirmed by one of the automated kiosks
located in the airport, members answer customs and immigration questions using
a touch screen. The kiosk then issues a receipt and members are directed toward
the exit, the transborder lounge or the inspection area, depending on the situation.
6.5.4 Electronic Passport (e-Passport)
Enhanced security features have been added to Canadian passports issued domestically
since 2002 and since April 2006 for Canadian passports issued abroad. These features
include a digital photo, holograms, special ink and a machine-readable zone at
the bottom of the personal information page. Canadian
passports do not currently contain biometric identifiers, but biometric identifiers
are planned for the next version of the Canadian passport currently in development.
In September 2004, amendments to the Canadian Passport Order were
brought into force, two of which allow Passport Canada to include biometrics
in passports. The
first amendment provides Passport Canada with the authority to convert any information
submitted by an applicant into a digital biometric format for the purpose of
inserting that information into a passport. The second amendment authorizes Passport
Canada to convert an applicant’s photograph into a biometric template for the
purpose of verifying the applicant’s identity.
Since January 2009, Passport Canada has been issuing most Official Travel
passports (special and diplomatic passports) as e-passports. This pilot project
is expected to lead to full implementation of e-passports for the public by 2012.
The document will meet ICAO standards, which call for the inclusion of an electronic
contactless chip containing
the passport holder’s personal information and
a digital photo for face-recognition purposes. Although the agency has released
little information publicly about the e-passport project, in response to concerns
from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPCC), Passport Canada
has indicated that there is currently no intention to include fingerprints or
iris scans in the Canadian e-passport. However,
Passport Canada is going ahead with face-recognition technology to detect identity
fraud (such as applying for multiple passports under different names) and ineligible
applicants (by means of comparison with photographs of known terrorists or criminals). The
OPCC and Passport Canada agree that any e-passport system should protect passport
holders against such activities as “skimming” and “eavesdropping.”
The planned introduction of face-recognition technologies and biometric passports
has been done with little or no public debate. However, following the statement
in the 2010 Speech from the Throne that biometric passports would be introduced
by the Government of Canada, Passport
Canada has confirmed that it would hold public consultations before their implementation,
as required under the User Fees Act.
6.5.5 Temporary Residents Biometrics Project (TRBP)
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is currently planning to deploy a
border security initiative in 2011 following a successful field trial in 2006–07. By 2013, biometric identifiers will be collected from all visitor visa, study
permit and work permit applicants. During the TRBP field trial, applicants at
selected locations had their photographs taken and were required to submit 10
electronic fingerprints. Upon their arrival in Canada, the CBSA verified their
identity by means of fingerprinting. Furthermore,
Canada intends to participate in a planned biometric data-sharing initiative
involving the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. In
its Annual Report to Parliament 2008–09, the OPCC has expressed concern over
the security of the collected data and has asked CIC to provide more information
about the need to share biometric data.
6.5.6 Public Security Technical Program (PSTP)
The PSTP is operated by the Centre for Security Science, a joint endeavour
of Defence Research and Development Canada and Public Safety Canada. One of its
main missions is to understand threats to national security, which includes evaluating
biometric technologies that could be used to improve border security. The PSTP
provides funding for collaborative research projects with various levels of government,
industry, international allies and academia.
Given the security-conscious world in which we live, it is likely that biometric-based
recognition systems are here to stay. The systems will probably become commonplace
at borders, airports and other establishments where security is a concern. The
International Civil Aviation Organization has set standards for machine-readable
travel documents that include the inclusion of biometric identifiers; as such,
e-passports that include biometrics will likely eventually become the only acceptable
document for international travel.
Biometric-based recognition systems are privacy-intrusive security measures.
For this reason, some critics object altogether to the use of these systems,
whereas others note that the systems may be necessary in certain cases, but only
if appropriate security and legal measures are in place to protect the sensitive
personal data that are collected. Specific concerns about the use of biometric-based
recognition systems include their technological limitations (related to their
accuracy and vulnerability); increased, and in some cases unnecessary, surveillance
of citizens’ daily activities; theft or manipulation of biometric and other personal
data held on centralized databases; function creep; and the high cost of implementing
and operating many of these systems.
The Canadian federal government, like other governments around the world,
is employing or experimenting with biometrics in a number of situations. Voluntary
biometric verification of passenger identity by means of iris recognition is
already in place at several Canadian airports. Passport Canada is in the process
of developing an e-passport that contains biometrics, and is currently working
on a facial recognition system to help it screen applicants. The Office of the
Privacy Commissioner of Canada is not opposed to the use of biometrics under
the appropriate circumstances, but it notes that the Privacy Act is
in urgent need of reform to ensure that it reflects recent technological changes,
including the introduction of biometrics.
Biometric-based recognition systems are potentially important tools for enhancing
security in some situations. However, before governments decide whether to implement
such systems, they may wish to conduct detailed analyses to ensure that the technology
is actually required, and that no other less privacy-intrusive measure would
achieve the same purpose. Furthermore, the biometric technologies employed should
be both efficient and used in such ways that the loss of privacy is minimized.
† Library of Parliament Background Papers provide in-depth studies of policy issues. They feature historical background, current information and references, and many anticipate the emergence of the issues they examine. They are prepared by the Parliamentary Information and Research Service, which carries out research for and provides information and analysis to parliamentarians and Senate and House of Commons committees and parliamentary associations in an objective, impartial manner. [ Return to text ]