Biometrics Protects Government Data
Fingerprint verification is helping government - both internationally and domestically - reduce fraud and secure access to information.
Business Solutions, February 1998
For example, Spain's government recently integrated biometric verification units in 633 informational kiosks that will eventually be used by 7 million citizens (the project is 45% complete). The kiosks allow citizens to access personal information, such as pension and healthcare benefits, in addition to information on jobs.
Unisys (Blue Bell, PA), a systems integrator, provided the biometric units. Unisys incorporated fingerprint verification systems from Identicator Technologies, a manufacturer of biometric systems.
Helping Government Protect Information
The 633 kiosks are located in various government offices in the Andalusia region of Spain, says John Souder, program manager for Unisys. The Spanish government plans to implement the kiosks nationwide.
The Spanish government wanted to make it easier for citizens to access information related to jobs as well as pension and healthcare benefits, according to Souder. (In Spain, citizens don't "lose" pension benefits they've accumulated when they change jobs. As a result, Souder says, the government closely monitors benefit levels to prevent fraud.)
Previously, accessing such information was time consuming and troublesome, according to Souder. For example, citizens had to go to the appropriate government office, often waiting in long lines. In addition, they typically had to go to several different offices - that were spread out - to obtain all the information they needed. The kiosks, however, now offer citizens a form of "one-stop" information shopping.
"Citizens can access different databases from one kiosk, as opposed to going to multiple government offices," Souder says. "It's more efficient and convenient." To use the kiosks, citizens had to obtain a smart card with their name and an ID number. Citizens also had to be "enrolled" in the system. During the enrollment process, each citizen's right or left index fingerprint is scanned and stored to the smart card. That way, the system can verify the citizen using the card is the same person authorized to use it.
To get information at a kiosk, citizens first insert the smart card into a reader. (This is similar to the way bank customers withdraw money from an automatic teller machine.) An integrated touchscreen then prompts them to place their finger on the Identicator Technologies' unit. The unit scans the fingerprint, which is matched against the print that had been generated during the initial enrollment process.
Citizens can then access databases for the National Institute of Social Security; the National Institute of Employment; the General Treasury of Social Security and the Social Institute For Sea Workers. Individuals use touch screens to access these databases. Citizens also can apply for government benefits at the kiosks by entering demographic information with the touch screens.
Biometrics Secure Records
According to Souder, the Spanish government included biometric verification in the kiosks to ensure personal information was secured. "If someone lost their ID card, an unauthorized individual could use it to access the cardholder's medical records or pension benefits. The government thought biometrics was the best way to protect against those types of incidents. The key is citizens have to present the card, as well as a matching fingerprint, before they can access information."
Fingerprint scanning is not the only form of biometric verification. Other systems scan a person's eye or iris, or read hand geometry, to verify identity. Facial recognition systems are another form of biometrics. According to Souder, the Spanish government chose fingerprint scanning because of its greater affordability. Many fingerprint verification units cost around $1,500. However, iris scanners can cost up to five times that amount, Souder says.
Domestic Opportunities For Biometrics
Biometric sales opportunities for government applications also exist in the United States. Unisys recently installed a fingerprint recognition system for San Diego County's Department of Social Services. The county's goal was to eliminate the instances of welfare recipients applying for benefits more than once. The project involved 25,000 recipients.
Previously, when individuals applied for benefits, they were required to provide demographic data, such as their name and address. However, since not all eligible applicants possess identification, general assistance benefits cannot be denied because the individual does not have identification. As a result, it was relatively easy for individuals to apply for benefits - under different names - at multiple offices.
Now, as part of the application process, the individual's fingerprint is scanned and stored in a database accessible by the county's seven offices. "If someone tried to apply for benefits at a second office, their fingerprint would appear in the database," Souder explains. "That way, the office would know it was a fraudulent claim."
In its first six months of using the system, San Diego County saved over $200,000. Previously, 4-6% of the county's budget was spent paying fraudulent claims.