Impact of Biometric Technologies on Mauritian Society

Biometric technologies have, somehow, controlled and influenced the every day life of Mauritians. Whether its adoption in personal and business transactions, security, law, enterprise or e-government, the advantages and usefulness of biometrics seem to have been decisively recognised in the Island. This article aims to discuss the impact of biometric technologies on the Mauritian society.

Modern world is observing the exponential use of the biometric technology – though not a new invention in the ICT field – in daily lives of human beings. As a simple example of daily use, biometric technology, or fingerprint recognition, in the case of our iPhone, is a “measurable biological (anatomical and physiological) and behavioural characteristic that can be used for automated recognition” (NSTC Subcommittee, 2011, p.2). The process of the biometric system to verify the identity of an individual is by comparing already-submitted samples, found in a database, to that being submitted on that instant. Common biometric modalities include fingerprint, face, iris, voice, signature, hand geometry, gait, vascular, retina and facial thermography.

History shows that handprints may have acted as a non-forgeable signature of its originator at least 31,000 years old. Further, fingerprints were used as early as 500 B.C. – mostly by Chinese merchants to settle business transactions. Soon after, fingerprints and footprints started being used to differentiate children in the Chinese community. Egyptian traders then adopted biometric technologies to identify the physical description of other fellow traders. (Atick, 2001)

The iris recognition concept dates to 1936 but saw major advancements in late 1980s with the first algorithm issued in 1994 for iris recognition automatically. Machine vision research began in the 1960s, with the intent to recognise individuals via their facial characteristics. Manual fingerprint recognition studies began in the late 1800s, whereas automated biometric identification techniques were introduced publicly in the 1980s and 1990s. (NSTC Subcommittee, 2011, p.18)

Biometrics in Mauritius

While most countries around the world are adopting biometric technologies in their computerization strategies, Mauritius did not leave any stone unturned in implementing this technique to increase the efficiency of its various systems. The reason behind which the Government of Mauritius has embraced biometric technologies in Mauritius is that the “biometrics provides foolproof authentication, hence preventing sensitive data from getting stolen, hacked or exposed to unauthorized entities” (BioEnable, 2015). Indeed biometric technologies help users deploy and maintain their systems in a simpler way, thus promoting longevity and enabling interoperability. Let us have a deeper look at the applications of biometrics in Mauritius, and how it has impacted the Mauritian society.

Mauritius has adopted biometric technologies in enterprise and e-government services to administer people and processes. Mauritius saw the implementation of the biometric national identity card in the year 2013. The vision of the Government of Mauritius was to provide all citizens of Mauritius with a high-security ID card linked to a new population database to serve as an ID document to prove identity and to allow more secure and reliable access to government e-services. With that new form of identification and authentication, Mauritians would have needed to carry only one identity document instead of multiple documents. Another stated benefit at the time the project was proposed by the Government was that people would also be able to access Governmental e-services at home or at work using their personal identity card readers. (Meetoo, 2013)

However, after the General Elections 2014, the newly elected government believed it to be suspicious that the biometric National Identity Card (NIC) project, negotiated by former prime minister, Navin Ramgoolam, lacked security measures for the data it collects from the citizens of Mauritius. As a result, this gave rise to a disbelief and skepticism among Mauritians towards both the former ruling party and biometric technology. (Beeharry, 2015)

In September 2015, Roshi Bhadain, Minister of Technology, Communication and Innovation publicly announced that the fingerprints of 947,000 citizens from the NIC database were destroyed. Their photos and names, however, remain in the database. (Donzelot, 2015)

Going further, biometric technologies are vastly used in Mauritius to effect both personal and business transactions. One of the most common security accesses to buildings in Mauritius – mostly for staff – is fingerprint. Many local corporate and governmental buildings have used biometric technology for years when it comes to ensuring only authorised personal gain access to the most well protected establishments.

Just like remaining part of the globe, the use of biometric technologies for vehicle security is also getting popular day-by-day; this can be anything from voice recognition when using Bluetooth or entertainment systems to unlocking the vehicle itself. GPS tracking is the most famous biometric adoption by vehicle owners – fleet management, school buses, taxis, private cars, etc. – in Mauritius.(BioEnable, 2015)

Facebook is the most common social media platform used in Mauritius. Facebook has used facial recognition technology since 2010 to suggest which friends to tag in photos. This has been easier and quicker for Mauritians to make Facebook part of their lifestyles; though, the option of facial biometrics was removed in 2012 Europe under pressure from privacy campaigners. Furthermore, as mentioned in the initial segment of this report, biometric technologies form part of Mauritian iPhone users, as well as other smartphones. The Apple Company revolutionised biometrics through its iPhone 5 in 2013, with its “fingerprint sensor used to unlock the phone and authorise digital content purchases” (Dredge, 2014).

Biometric technologies have also been adopted in Mauritius for law enforcement and homeland security. The use of biometrics has been implemented in prisons in Mauritius to have an effective management of information (APEC, 2014). Likewise, biometric technologies have been applied for several years at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) International Airport to enhance the reliability of security checks for airport personnel. At the airport, the biometric identity control systems are “used at the entrance to assure secure areas” (AML, 2014).

Ending note

Biometric technologies have been seen to be in growing use in Mauritius. Whether its adoption in personal and business transactions, security, law, enterprise or e-government, the advantages and usefulness of biometrics seem to have been decisively recognised in the Island. Nevertheless, the introduction of the new biometric Mauritian National Identity Card (NIC) in the year 2014 by the previous Government gave rise to scepticism among the population. This had a setback in the branding of the use of biometric technologies to make systems efficient in Mauritius. While biometrics has its various advantages and disadvantages, the shift from an existing system towards the adoption of biometric technologies should be accompanied by a proper education towards its direct users and stakeholders.



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