ID-4-PAPD: Greasing our Development Wheels (Part 7)

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Biometric IDs make Telcom Services Safer

By J. Tiah Nagbe, MSF, ChFC

What telecommunication services allow us to do today could have scared even the wildest dreamers a century ago. Truly, they are at the center of our modern civilization! Yet, while these services power human development, they also can enhance human destruction through crimes, including even terrorism. Therefore, it is very important that society’s leaders continue to take actions that can preserve the benefits of telecommunications, while at the same time reducing the risks that this innovation poses to our safety. One important tool that helps reduce such a risk is biometric identification. How that happens is the focus of today’s discussion.

But before we go any further, let’s just recap our last week’s discussion, which was about the use of biometrics to save lives. In that article, we pointed out that biometrics have made it possible for the introduction of health insurance to large populations, like millions or even billions of people. Also, biometrics are making it possible to electronically store and access medical records around the world, which will help healthcare professionals respond to medical emergencies for patients that may fall sick far from home and cannot tell someone what is going on with them. Through these two important things, biometric identification is helping people live longer and therefore saving lives.

The Magic of Telecommunication

Now let’s go back to telecommunication. Isn’t this technology doing magic today? Someone can speak with a friend thousands of miles away; take a picture of themselves and send it to another person within seconds to any part of the world; get on their phone and take money from their account to pay another person almost anywhere in the world within seconds; and the list goes on. If you just joined the human race, do not take these facilities for granted, because they were not here just a couple of decades ago.

Prior to telephones becoming commercialized in the early 1900s, if you wanted to speak with someone you had to go and meet with them. If that was not possible, you people never spoke. No telephone, end of story! Before the 1990s if you wanted to send a document to another person, you mailed it and waited for it to take whatever time was needed to get it there, even if it went to China. No internet, simple! Also, prior to the 2000s if you wanted to see someone and have a conversation with them, you also had to go to them to do that. No video calls, period! And for us in Liberia, prior to 2010, or thereabout, if you wanted to send money to your friend or relative in a rural area, you waited to find someone who could carry the money for you; and if that person was dishonest, then it was your hard luck. No mobile money, no questions asked. Today all this has changed, and with it our lives have become easier and better. But like any other story, even this great one has a second side, the bad side.

The Dark Side of this Magic

Telecommunication serves can make life easier for people, whether good people or bad people; and this is where they have a dark side. I do not know enough to describe the ways that these services help bad people, in the same way that I showed above how they can help good people. But one thing I know is that we all use them; and not everyone of us means well for society. Some experts who know about the misuse of these services have named a few areas of danger, which include theft of telecommunication services, electronic money laundering, electronic funds transfer fraud, criminal conspiracies, theft of intellectual property, dissemination of offensive materials, electronic vandalism, telemarketing fraud, and facilitation of other crimes. Therefore, it is obvious that we must find ways to limit the bad side of this technology before we are forced to end the use of it. And one tool that helps us reduce these risks is biometric identification.

Biometrics Promote Safer Telco Services

One key thing that telecommunication services have made possible is that it is no longer necessary that you have to see someone to do business with them. So, bad people can hide behind the phone; take money from other people’s accounts without even going to the bank, or distribute dangerous information without anyone seeing them. Telecommunication also allow things — good or bad — to happen quickly. Therefore, leaders of societies all over the world agree that one way to reduce the problems with these services is to make sure that people who use telecommunication services register before getting access. But registration can also be fake, so the real user of the service is also hidden. However, with biometric identification as a requirement for registration of telecommunication service users, it is quite difficult for the actual user to hide. And when people cannot hide, they are careful with what they do because they can be found out and made to account for their actions.

Wrapping up

There is no argument that telecommunication has changed our lives for the better; but these services can be used for wrong purposes and in certain cases can make bad behaviors easier to carry out. To manage these risks, policymakers continue to take actions. One of such actions is the introduction of biometric identification for registration of SIM cards. This is popular around the world today. Next week, we will look at some ways in which biometric IDs support a country’s education system.

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