Facial Recognition Systems at the Checkout: Are We Living in a Cashless Society?

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Katina MichaelUniversity of Wollongong
Linda MottramABC Sydney Radio 702


Imagine being able to walk into a store and not require the use of a card to make a transaction at the checkout. Well the capability is a form of biometric recognition. In Australia today, Centrelink (2009) and the National Australia Bank (2012) have call centres that depend on voice recognition so you don't have to queue up for service on the telephone, Woolworths (2011) enrolled more than 80,000 employees in 760 supermarkets, onto its biometric ID system, and the list of pubs and clubs that require patrons to register and have their fingerprints scanned on entry has been growing rapidly since 2011. Futhermore Railcorp rolled out a biometric pilot in 2011 as a replacement for a "bundy clock" to cut payroll fraud, and Victory Lutheran College in Wodonga collected biometric vein data from students for an attendance tracking system without consulting parents. But my 'favourite' application of biometrics has to be biometric to monitor church attendance in Warsaw, Poland reported in 2010. Getting back to Australia, the Biometric Institute warns pubs and clubs who have biometric systems in place to comply with the National Privacy Principles (NPPs) of the Privacy Act, especially given most clubs and pubs in Australia are exempt from the NPPs given their annual revenues fall behind the set threshold. What are some of the issues around biometric recognition systems? Security, privacy are among the top issues. Hacking into biometric databases will become big business as individuals cannot change their physical characteristics that are unique like their fingerprints or iris or retina. About 2% of the population also cannot enrol into these straightjacket systems for one reason or another. What do we do with the identity of these individuals? Are they left behind? What is the alternative? Twins also can create some major problems for systems that consider only one mode of biometric identification such as facial systems. Kevin Bowyer has done research on this and indicates it is a major problem for identical twins etc. Yes, we can use multimodal biometrics but there is still a lot of thinking to do about how we safeguard these systems, before we dive headlong into a cashless society!

Suggested Citation

Katina Michael and Linda Mottram. "Facial Recognition Systems at the Checkout: Are We Living in a Cashless Society?" 702 ABC Radio: Mornings with Linda Mottram Jul. 2013: 10.40 a.m.-10.50 a.m..