Written by Joel Engardio for Tascent

Improving Lives in Developing Nations by Accelerating Identity Programs

Did you know that 1.1 billion people in the world lack a legal identity? Providing aid in a nation decimated by war or natural disaster is difficult enough. But the neediest people fall through the cracks when their identity is unknown.

Establishing a verifiable identity is essential for the delivery of critical services in refugee camps and developing nations. That’s why the United Nations wants to provide a universal legal identity for all individuals by 2030.

Biometrics will help achieve this goal. Currently, electronic identification (eID) systems — backed by biometrics — are trying to help people without a legal identity become known. But the task is monumental and the need for efficient identity enrollment solutions has never been greater.

Overcoming challenges
People are increasingly identified by face, fingerprint and iris biometrics. The technology is making life easier when it comes to enrollment applications like national identification cards, voter registration, e-Passports, driver’s licenses and border management.

But creating verifiable identities for everyone in a developing nation or refugee camp has unique challenges. The locations are often remote with harsh environmental conditions. Legacy identity enrollment equipment is complex and fragile. The carrying cases are bulky and heavy, each weighing up to 20 pounds. Transporting the equipment across far-flung terrain can add significant logistical hurdles to a broad-scale program.

A faster, easier, lower cost solution
Tascent Mobile offers a pocket-sized multimodal biometrics device. It works with the iPhone and only weighs 15 ounces (including the iPhone).

Compared to a traditional system, which typically takes five to 15 minutes for a full enrollment, Tascent Mobile takes less than two minutes to capture iris, face, fingerprints, document imagery and biographic information. When enrolling thousands of individuals, those saved minutes really add up.

The mobile version also significantly reduces labor needs, given how much manpower it takes to package and send out equipment, train personnel and supervise its use. A single, integrated mobile device is a lot easier to manage than assembling a twenty-pound, five-piece “suitcase” across many locations.

For resource-strapped organizations, the cost-savings is most important. A traditional “suitcase” enrollment kit can cost between $9,000 and $12,000. Tascent Mobile is about the half that cost — and there are additional savings in maintenance and shipping costs. Tascent Mobile is inexpensive to maintain because of its ability to receive remote software updates.

What’s the best biometric modality?
In the world of biometrics, one size does not fit all. Each core biometric (face, fingerprint and iris) has its strengths and weaknesses depending on the application. Tascent Mobile integrates multiple modalities. Here are the pros and cons of each:

  • Fingerprint
    While fingerprint databases are well-established across the globe, they can fall short. Fingerprinting requires touch, something that some users may shy away from for hygiene reasons or cultural beliefs. Fingerprints can also be hard to obtain from older individuals, as well as people who perform manual labor — a problem in countries and regions where a large portion of the population performs this type of work.
  • Face
    Facial imagery has a long been used on travel and ID documents. But it is not accurate enough to establish unique identity when considering a database of thousands or millions. It is also heavily impacted by environmental lighting conditions, which can further degrade performance.
  • Iris
    Iris is 100,000 times more accurate than facial recognition. It is also quick to search, about 10x as efficient as fingerprints. It has the most stability over time, since irises change very little as we age, as compared to our faces and fingerprints. Large scale programs have made iris adoption easier by lowering the cost of sensors and infrastructure.

A small device with a big impact
Mobile solutions will overcome the geographic, environmental and infrastructure challenges facing the identity needs in developing nations. The “suitcase” enrollment kit is yesterday's answer. Today, Tascent Mobile leads the way in delivering effective, secure and efficient enrollment programs across the developing world. While small, these devices can have a big impact on the lives of millions.