Singapore’s Facial Verification National Identity Card
In late-September 2020, the Singaporean government made the decision to formally introduce biometric face-scanning technology to its national ID system. In doing so they become the first country in the world to actually initiate such a measure on a nationwide, public scale.
The company who is spearheading this project, iProov, is actually based in the United Kingdom. According to its CEO, Andrew Bud, the facial-verification IDs are intended to serve as a foolproof way to not only verify a person’s identity but also their very presence. Indeed in rationalizing the initiative, he cited the increasingly-utilized deepfake technologies which unscrupulous individuals use to trick others. He further elaborated that the scheme is not only about verifying individual’s identities but also securing them.
And of course with a system like this there are concerns centered on individuals’ rights and the potential for such awesome power to be abused. For instance, the plan is for these IDs/technologies to ultimately be used for general monetary transaction also, thus making the Lion City cashless. But Mr. Bud has also pointed out that this is facial-verification, not facial-recognition. And with facial verification, the user actually has to consent with its use.
Or stated otherwise even if a business for example starts using the system, they won’t have access to the actual database behind it. Rather that information is centralized with the government, and then when a face is scanned it is verified against that data. But at the same time, Andrew also seems to disregard that for Singaporeans overall participation in this system will be for the most part mandatory.
So the way the situation reads at launch is, when conducting monetary transactions with its citizens, the Singaporean government already has a mandatory online-payment system in place known as SingPass. SingPass will now be integrated with a facial-verification technology iProov has developed known as Genuine Presence Assurance.
Advantages of the Facial Verification ID
Going back to the deepfake issues, this development is intended to eradicate the possibility of someone who is not actually present logging into SingPass. Or stated more plainly, a SingPass user has to be live and in the flesh in order to login. They can’t use a photograph of their face for instance. Nor can anyone else login using another person’s username and password. Nor will the system be tricked by deepfake videos, at least theoretically.
And as of September 2020, 4,000,000 individuals out of Singapore’s total population of a little over 5,600,000 are registered users of SingPass. And again, at least at launch, it is apparently an optional, not mandatory, verification method for SingPass.
Other Countries using Facial Verification?
That being said, it has also been noted that facial verification is not only already in use in Singapore but also other countries like the US, UK and China. Generally these cases are in relation to high-security facilities like airports and government offices, albeit becoming increasingly more widespread. But even with China for instance requiring people to have their faces scanned before purchasing new phones, relatively speaking, what these countries are doing pales in comparison to what Singapore is pulling off.
In fact maybe the reason Singapore can serve as a pilot for this type of program is because as a country it is so small, on top of being a highly-computerized. In fact going back to the registered users of SingPass, the government already has the biometric data of over 4,000,000 citizens stored in a database as they conceptualized the “Smart Nation Initiative”, which this new ID is a part of, as far back as 2014.
Private Businesses also using this technology
Indeed well beyond being used with SingPass, as alluded to earlier, Singapore’s facial-verification IDs are also intended to be used by private businesses and accordingly will be made available to those who want to implement it. And it has been pointed out that one semi-governmental institution, DBS Bank, has already been using facial verification to enable customers to open accounts.
So overall, it appears that the short-term goal is to make these new IDs a fundamental aspect of Singapore’s very economy. In fact they are slated to completely replace conventional photo IDs as soon as 2022.
The Lion City is once again blazing trials in terms of integrating computer technology with the everyday life. This time they are doing so with the introduction of a national ID scheme which is not only based on biometric data but also very-advanced facial recognition/verification. Undoubtedly there are going to be people who have different types of issues with this type of exercise being instituted over an entire country. But at the same time, it appears that for Singapore, facial-verification IDs are here to stay.