How Has Biometrics Improved National Security?

In recent years, threats to national security have become a major point of concern for many nations. With increased cyber threats, cross border and terrorist incidents around the globe, it is evident that prevailing national security measures are not strict enough and need further strengthening. National security is now a serious matter that requires constant efforts for improvement.

National security
Biometrics for National Security. Image Source

One of the foremost tasks for achieving national security is to collect information from multiple sources using multiple techniques. Intelligence gathering helps security agencies anticipate any potential threats and share the information with law enforcement agencies to take proactive measures.

Since anonymity protects terrorists and insurgents and provides them with operational advantage, biometrics can help strip away their anonymity and put them at a disadvantage. With biometrics digital identity data, entrants to a country can be screened and the risk of unknown individuals entering a country is greatly reduced.

Brief History of Biometrics

Identification based on fingerprint began way back in the nineteenth century when an Argentine detective was able to solve a crime using fingerprints left behind the criminal in 1892. Detectives in England officially began to use fingerprints in identification of criminals in 1901. By 1946, FBI had a central database of 100 million fingerprints. In 1970, it developed Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) to effectively manage the growing collection of fingerprints.

Today, governments all over the world use biometric systems for various purposes including national defense, border management, employee screenings, security, healthcare, and more.

Biometrics and National Security

Border Management

In terms of national security, biometrics plays a vital role in border management. Government agencies use biometric systems to verify identity of travelers at international borders. Some countries require visa applicants to provide their biometric samples so that they can be verified against immigration records and criminal databases. Some countries check biometric verification such as fingerprint or iris scanning at their arrival checkpoints on airports.

For instance, Canadian border agency collects photographs and fingerprints of individuals from Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas who apply for work permits, study permits, temporary resident visas and permits or permanent residence. Biometrics are more efficient and reliable as compared to biographic data in paper documents since they help to instantly identify and verify the individuals at the border. It can help border agencies screen an applicant for criminal convictions or past immigration infractions with utmost accuracy.

National Defense

National defense also greatly relies on identity verification through biometrics. For instance, US Navy and Marines force use the Identity Dominance System (IDS) which captures, saves and matches data which belongs to unknown individuals who may have been taken into custody during an operation.

Specialized mobile devices are also used to capture face, iris and fingerprint data to identify individuals. Biometrics are also being used to identify known individuals such as local employees or newly hired service members. The ability of biometric systems to perform accurate and fast identity verification of genuine individuals is also as important in some cases as identifying perpetrators.

Sharing of biometric data across border can help to fix security gaps that are still there at present. Biometric data sharing across security agencies at an international level can be attained by signing an international agreement and pledging to use the data strictly for national security purpose and otherwise keep it confidential. This way, international biometric data sharing may greatly help counter internationally organized terrorism, human trafficking, border protection, smuggling, banking and financial threats, and more.

Importance of Biometrics across Virtual Borders

Gone are the days when secure borders, powerful military and stable economy would guarantee national security. With the inception of internet connectivity, it is now equally important to lay down virtual borders along with actual borders. Technology is now a double-edged source, and criminals have now become technologically advanced. Today, national security is not only threatened by physical intrusions, rather, the internet has made it easy for criminals to perpetrate resources crucial to national security.

It is vital to know who is accessing which information so that critical resources can be safeguarded from potential misuse. As long as there is a human behind a fraudulent activity, they can be identified from their unique behavioral and physiological characteristics i.e. biometrics. It has an advantage over other identification methods, since it makes use of inherent individual characteristics for their recognition.


Biometrics has and will increasingly become a more valuable tool to verify individual identities in an interconnected environment of national security. But at the same time, it is imperative to note the implications it brings upon civil liberty and to realize the importance of balancing security with the protection of personal privacy.

(This guest post is written by David Smith.)

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