The Flaws of Biometric Identification

When Biometrics Fail

From fingerprinting to iris scans, biometric identification technology is a multibillion dollar industry and an integral part of the security state. In When Biometrics Fail, Shoshana Amielle Magnet demonstrates that these technologies are flawed and discriminatory in the way they identify people.

Philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Hegel and Foucault have argued against the idea of a subject-centred, universal reason. In her book, Magnet argues that these models of reason are not only flawed but dangerous.

1. Biological identity

Biometrics aim to make hacking or gaining unauthorized access to a system much more difficult. The technology uses physical identifiers, such as the shape of one’s hand, voice, or face, to confirm a person’s identity and prevent them from being tampered with. Biometrics can be used consciously, featuring user participation, or passively (as in surveillance).

But despite the heightened level of security biometrics provide, they are not foolproof. Whether it’s the manipulation of fingerprint scanners using jelly-like substances, or keystroke tracking software imitating someone’s writing speed, typography, or grade-level of ability, there is always the possibility that the technology will be compromised. This is especially true if the technology relies on physical traits, like the way that your fingers move on a trackpad or how you type with your right or left hand. Biometrics rely on patterns that are unique to each individual, but these can be changed by illness, injury or simply by wearing makeup or glasses.

2. Social identity

Social identity theory suggests that individuals use social categories to compare themselves against others. This self-comparison results in negative emotions like envy and stress, and can have physical consequences for health. The long history of bloody wars fought over class status further suggests that social standing matters a lot to human beings.

Magnet examines how these differences create a range of psychological problems that biometric identification systems cannot solve, notably the stigma attached to low-status groups and how they are often systematically discriminated against in the manner and sites in which biometric technology is implemented (prisons, welfare and border control). He also considers the social implications for those who are not easily identifiable using biometrics, including the disproportionate number of prisoners, welfare recipients and migrants.

The book dispels some common misconceptions about biometrics, such as the idea that they are inherently secure because they are based on unique physical characteristics. In fact, this security does not depend on these traits being secretive and it is quite easy to impersonate a person using photographs or other information about them.

3. Technology

Biometric recognition systems—from digital fingerprint scanning to facial and iris recognition—are a multibillion dollar industry and an integral part of post-9/11 national security policy. But they are also prone to failures, which can pose serious security risks.

When these systems fail, the results can be categorized as false acceptance or false rejection. In the former, the system accepts a fake fingerprint or eyeball and allows access (a false acceptance). In the latter, the system rejects a legitimate biometric sample and denies access to the user (a false rejection).

In many cases, the systems fail because of sources of variability and uncertainty. As cybersecurity specialist Roger Grimes explains, even a simple system like a fingerprint scanner embedded in a computer has many sources of error. For example, the device turns the raw biometric data into a series of points noting where major “rivers and valleys” and sharp changes occur—not a clean star constellation, but an image that is far from perfect.

4. Security

Biometric recognition relies on a one-to-one match between a new biometric sample and data stored in a database. This is different from nonbiometric authentication factors such as passwords and PINs that can be easily replaced if compromised.

In contrast, fingerprints and irises, as well as facial images and voiceprints, cannot be replaced once stolen. This makes them more sensitive to hacking and easier to manipulate for malicious purposes.

Shoshana Amielle Magnet argues that rendering bodies in biometric code is falsely assuming that our physical characteristics are stable and unchanging. She also shows that these technologies work differently, and often fail to function, on women, people of color, and those with disabilities.

Like all identification methods, a fundamental privacy concern with biometrics is that the technology is recording private information about an identifiable individual. This means that it is subject to privacy laws such as the federal Privacy Act and Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, overseen by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

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The Accuracy of Different Biometric Technologies

Which Biometrics is Most Accurate?

There are several different biometrics that can be used for verification or identification. Some of the more common types include scans of fingers, eyes, palms and faces as well as voice analysis.

Each type has its pros and cons. But the ultimate question is which one is the most accurate?


Fingerprint recognition focuses on the unique patterns of ridges and valleys that distinguish one’s fingers. This technology has been around for over a century and is considered one of the most accurate modalities. It’s also relatively inexpensive to implement and scalable because of its widespread use in law enforcement and government agencies.

Another physical biometric method is iris or eye recognition which uses cameras to scan and analyze the pattern of tiny light spots in a person’s eyes. This is used in many commercial applications and in airports.

DNA verification is considered to be the most accurate method because it uses the unique sequence of a person’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). It is a time-consuming and expensive process that requires a blood sample, cheek smear, or other body secretions to create a DNA profile. This is then compared with the database to identify the individual. Error rates for this type of verification are low. It is also very difficult to spoof this type of biometrics.


Iris recognition uses mathematical pattern-recognition techniques to scan and verify images of the iris, which are unique to each person. The iris is not prone to change due to age, disease or wear and tear, making it one of the most accurate types of biometrics.

Like fingerprint and facial recognition, iris recognition is a non-repudiable, non-transferable and highly secure form of identity verification. However, it has some usability concerns, such as the requirement for the subject to remain still and look into the camera. It is also difficult to use at distances greater than a few metres and requires that the subject be co-operative, which can be challenging in the context of videoconferencing.

The accuracy of face recognition is also dependent on the quality of the image. It is therefore important that facial recognition technology has robust quality measures, including a score to indicate the level of match accuracy. When iris and face recognition are used in conjunction, the system can be nearly impervious to false rejections and fraudulent access attempts.


Face recognition is one of the most widely used biometrics for authentication and identification. It is the technology behind Apple’s FaceID and many Android phones and works by comparing an image or video frame of a person to a database. It has medium accuracy rate, but it can provide an immediate and passive form of identity verification that eliminates the need to remember passwords or PIN codes.

Facial biometric systems are commonly used for border control and security purposes. They have been shown to have higher accuracy rates compared to live guards who compare passport photos of passengers against the faces of people standing in front of them at airports and other border controls.

However, facial recognition can be fooled by a variety of factors including masks, sunglasses and poor lighting conditions. For this reason, it’s best to use facial biometrics in conjunction with another primary biometric identifier like fingerprint or iris. When combined, multi-modal biometrics have an unmatched ability to reduce the chance of identity fraud in identity databases.


Biometrics based on voice offers a secure and convenient alternative to passwords. It is also more trustworthy as people cannot forget or modify their own voice, unlike a fingerprint or photo.

This scalable technology is also convenient for businesses as they do not have to install additional hardware or invest in specialized training for their employees. However, voice recognition is susceptible to spoofing attacks which makes it important that the chosen modality has strong anti-spoofing capabilities.

The contact center industry is one of the most common applications for voice biometrics, as it eliminates the need for customers to provide security questions during every customer service interaction. Additionally, this system offers enhanced analytics and automation by allowing companies to identify callers in order to better assist them with their enquiries. Furthermore, it is ideal for omnichannel systems as customers’ voiceprints can be used across all platforms once they have been enrolled. For example, they can make a purchase online and authenticate the transaction with their voice.

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Offshore visa applicants required to provide biometrics for Australian visa process.

Australian Biometrics Collection Centre

The Department of Home Affairs has started collecting biometrics in the offshore visa application process. This includes fingerprints and facial images. The service will be delivered by AVACs and Australian Biometric Collection Centres.

You will be required to attend the centre to submit your fingerprints and face image. You must not wear any hats, scarves or tinted glasses when you are photographed.

What is a biometric?

Biometrics are physical identifiers such as your facial characteristics, voice, fingerprint or iris that uniquely identify you. They are designed to be more secure than passwords in that they cannot be guessed or faked.

For example, facial recognition uses a computer to analyse the shape of your head and eyes to match them to a database. Similarly, fingerprints are unique and are recorded as a digital file that can be compared to known records.

However, biometrics can still be hacked, and there is a risk that thieves could collect your data to steal your identity. Therefore, any organisation that uses a biometric system should have transparent complaints and enquiries systems in place, and make these clear to end users. It is also important that any service design incorporates alternative options for those who are unable to enrol into the biometric system due to medical or other reasons. Ideally, these alternatives should be easy to use and accessible for all.

What is the process of collecting biometrics?

Biometrics are physical and behavioural characteristics that can be used to identify and authenticate people. Examples include facial images, fingerprints, palm prints, iris or retinal structures and gait.

A common approach to biometric identification involves matching a new sample with a number of stored records. This can be more effective and efficient than conventional verification, but it raises privacy concerns because the biometrics of many other people may also be affected.

This is especially problematic because biometrics can be collected surreptitiously without people’s knowledge, and because they often do not require explicit consent. The challenge is to design and implement a biometric system that improves identification services without compromising privacy. This requires careful thought about the nature and scope of the information being collected, and about how it will be used. It’s also important to consult with stakeholders, including the community and end users. This enables the organisation to clarify the purpose of the system and manage expectations.

Can I transfer biometrics from a previous application?

The Australian Government has incorporated biometrics collection into the visa application process for applicants outside Australia. Applicants for some visa subclasses will be requested to attend an AVAC or ABCC in person and provide their biometrics.

A person’s biometrics are their distinctive, uncopyable features that can be used to verify identity. They are usually collected in the form of facial photographs and fingerprints.

If you gave your biometrics in connection with a previous visa or work and study permit and they are still valid, you may not have to give them again. Use the Check status tool to find out if this is the case for you. Alternatively, you can contact your nearest AVAC or ABCC for more information. You can also download the biometrics brochure. This outlines the types of biometrics we will collect from you. In most cases, this will include a digital photograph and 10-digit fingerprint scan. This is a quick, non-intrusive and discreet process.

Can I bring my children with me?

In some circumstances, the Australian government asks visa applicants to attend an Australian Biometrics Collection Centre (ABCC) to have their fingerprints and facial image taken. This is to help prevent visa fraud and improve the efficiency of visa processing.

Biometrics are measurable physical characteristics that are unique to individuals such as facial features, fingerprints and the iris. Typically, these are collected through an electronic finger scanner or a digital camera.

The ABCC process is a quick, discreet and non-intrusive way of gathering the required information. Generally, it requires the collection of a facial image and 10-digit fingerprint scan.

You should bring your passport, travel document or national ID card to your appointment. It is also important to ensure that your fingertips are free of any form of decoration such as mehndi/henna, cuts or abrasions, and that they have been properly washed. Failure to do so may affect your ability to provide acceptable fingerprints. Your application will not be processed if your fingerprints are not suitable for visa lodgement.

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Connecting Fingerprint Patterns to Blood Groups and Diseases

How Many Fingerprint Patterns Are There?

Fingerprints are the unique patterns of ridges and valleys that form on the tips of our fingers. They are so unique that no two people share the same ones, not even identical twins.

They are one of the most reliable forms of evidence used in crime scenes. They are also incredibly durable, as they can resist damage from most sources.


Besides being extremely unique, our fingerprints are relatively permanent and stable. They are also a very good method of identification since no two people have the same fingerprints (except identical twins). Fingerprint identification is based on the arrangement and pattern of minutiae in a print, and the shape, size and number of these features make each individual’s prints different from anyone else’s.

There are a variety of patterns in the fingerprint, and one of them is a simple arch, or tented arch. These are shaped by ridgelines that stream into the fingerprint from one side, then clear up in the middle and eventually stream out the other way. Other common patterns include spiral whorls, concentric whorls, and elongated whorls.

In a study conducted by Umana et al, the researchers looked at the distribution of unique finger impression patterns among 100 type 2 diabetic patients and compared them to 126 controls. They found that there was a significant correlation between the blood group and the distribution of arches, loops, and whorls in the fingerprint. These findings suggest that it may be possible to predict an individual’s blood group through the fingerprint. The study also suggests that it may be possible to identify diseases that develop with age, such as hypertension and diabetes, by analyzing the fingerprint patterns.


The ridges in a fingerprint are organized into patterns, loops, whorls, and arches. Each pattern has different characteristics, which are determined by the pressure and strain exerted during fetal development. These features are called dermatoglyphics, and they are the basis of current fingerprint identification systems.

Loops are characterized by ridgelines that stream into the print from one side, curve around to form a loop and then back to their starting point. This type of pattern is more common than arches and whorls. There are two sorts of arch patterns, plain arches and tented arches. A plain arch is a straight upstanding edge in the center of a straightforward arch pattern, while a tented arch has a more circular shape and may also flee from the thumb.

Investigations done on dermatoglyphics and blood group of individuals propose that a person’s sex and blood gathering can be determined through his or her fingerprints. The results demonstrate that loops are the most typical finger impression pattern in guys and females and are most common in blood groups A and O. On the other hand, whorls and arches are less regular and more frequently found in B blood groups.


A whorl is an arrangement of petals, sepals, stamens, and gynoecium in a flower. A whorl can be monoclamydeous, meaning it has a single calyx and corolla, or diclamydeous, which means it has two different whorls. Whorls may also be elongated or imploding.

There are four kinds of whorl patterns: plain, central pocket loop, double, and composite. The accidental whorl is any pattern that doesn’t fit into any of the above characterizations.

Recently, a study done by Joshi et al., uncovered that there was an association between dissemination of fingerprint (dermatoglyphic) designs and blood gathering of individuals. They scanned palmar prints of 350 type 2 diabetic patients of age 30-60 years with a control gathering and discovered that loops and whorl curve were more regular in patients with O positive blood group. They additionally found that ulnar loop and tented arch were more prominent in diabetic patients.

The underlying stage in unique fingerprint verification depends on minutiae coordinating. Micro details, like ridge closure and ridge bifurcation, are utilized as the fundamental distinctive marks for identification. These minutiae are gotten through picture handling calculations on a fingerprint. They are then utilized to build up a feature vector which is utilized for fingerprint learning by unsupervised preparing models.

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The Systems Perspective on Biometrics: Understanding Identification Systems and Addressing Concerns.

The Systems Perspective on Biometrics

What is biometric identification?

Every time you swipe your fingerprint to unlock your phone, ask Siri a question or log into your online banking account with facial recognition software, you’re using biometrics. These systems are an alternative to traditional passwords that hackers might crack and are more secure, preventing unauthorized access.

Some of these modalities—such as fingerprint scanning, iris or retina scans and voice recognition—are commonly used by businesses and government agencies to verify identity. Others, like the shape of an ear or the way someone sits or walks, are less well known.

To be recognised, a person must have been previously recorded (known as enrolment) and a reference database created. Then the biometric system compares captured data to that reference database to confirm a match. A fallback process must also be in place to handle cases where the identifier fails, such as when a person loses their fingerprint or is injured and can’t use their face to log on.

How does it work?

The performance of any biometric identification system depends on the totality of its surrounding environment, whether it is other technologies, environmental factors, appeal policies shaped by security, business, or political considerations, and so forth. As such, it is important that systems architects take a systems perspective when designing a biometric application.

Hesitancy: Many people are hesitant to provide physical attributes like fingerprints, as they are worried about them being compromised. Transparency and education are key to addressing this issue.

What are the benefits?

Biometrics are a fast and convenient form of identification that can replace passwords or PINs for online security, such as when accessing an online banking account or applying for government benefits. They can also reduce time spent in front of computers by replacing forms and documents with a quick and seamless verification process.

Biometric identification is less likely to be compromised in a mass cyberattack or large-scale data breach than knowledge-based systems that use passwords, secret questions, and one-time passcodes sent via SMS. Because biometric identifiers are unique to each individual, they present a more challenging target for hackers.

Work group participants slightly favored using facial images over fingerprints, but they emphasized that there are no standards for formatting or “templatizing” raw biometric data (for example, storing only the coordinates of the pattern of lines on a fingernail or the positioning of features in a photograph). A single modality would also exclude populations whose data works poorly (such as fingers or faces) from the matching process.

What are the legal and ethical concerns?

Biometrics have the potential to be privacy invasive depending on the context and purpose in which they are used. They may also be subject to legal restrictions, for example some forms of biometric data are covered by IPP 2.

As with other types of personal information, it must only be collected and disclosed with an individual’s clear and informed consent. This requires that an organisation clearly explains the transaction context, and aims of the collection in a way that is easy for the person to understand.

It is also important that the correct individual is enrolled into a biometric system, which means that good quality, authenticated identity evidence must be presented during enrolment. This ensures that the biometric template is associated with the correct person, and reduces the risk of spoofing by impersonating someone else. Finally, it is essential that the organisation has transparent complaints and enquiry systems, as well as external avenues for redress in case of breaches or problems with a biometric identification solution.

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