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Why Biometrics is Growing in Developing Countries

16 August 2022

At Arana Security, we’ve seen an increase in the instalment and use of biometrics in developing countries and wanted to explore why and how this has happened.


The World Bank estimates that nearly 1 billion people in developing countries worldwide do not officially exist due to a lack of formal identification. This issue has serious implications for both individuals, businesses and governments, stunting the opportunity for political, economic and social development.


The introduction and widespread adoption of biometric identification systems in these developing nations has been key in tackling this issue in recent years, with the rapid reduction of people without formal identities from 1.5 billion in 2016 to 1.1 billion in 2017


So, what have been the driving factors in the growth of biometrics in developing countries?


Closing the ‘identity gap’


In parts of the world where it can be difficult to access ID cards, passports or birth certificates, individuals struggle to access services and rights that are taken for granted in developing countries. These include:

  • Healthcare
  • Voter registration
  • Financial aid
  • Payroll and pension services 
  • Education
  • Formal employment 
  • Mobile phones 
  • Bank accounts 
  • Travel

Without unique and reliable individual identifiers, governments cannot provide goods and services to the population and tax evasion and fraud tend to be prevalent. The resource-intensive paper system used in these countries is easily manipulated and fragile in nature. It has become clear to the governments in these nations that the identity gap is not just a symptom of underdevelopment, but a major contributing factor. 


Beyond the opportunities for individual citizens, ensuring the entire population has a legal identity is vital for national development, the ability to raise revenue and promoting and encouraging growth in the private sector. 


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals include ensuring that everyone has a legal identity by 2030 which prompted groups like the World Bank to set up ID4D (ID for development) and ID4 Africa. With access to biometric technology like our Biometrics ID products, these groups are working to tackle the identity gap challenge and help grow the use of biometrics in developing countries.


Developments in technology 


The technology behind biometrics in developing countries has not always been accessible due to a range of complex factors including cost, infrastructure, remoteness and environment. In recent years rapidly falling costs have opened the biometrics market up to parts of the world that need it desperately, and advancements in biometrics tech have made the identification and authentication of hundreds of millions of people a possibility. 


Extreme environmental conditions that previously seemed insurmountable have been overcome by tech innovation. Extreme temperature, dust and sunlight that would render tech ineffective have been combated with adaptable, lightweight mobile devices. Combining these devices with biometric technology has facilitated the successful implementation of identity programmes. 


A booming industry


The scope of the identification issue in developing countries has created huge opportunities for biometrics companies which in turn drives innovation and progress. In Africa and the Middle East, the biometrics market is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 21%. By 2027, the global biometrics industry is expected to reach $82 billion, according to the report, ‘Biometrics – Global Market Trajectory & Analytics 2020,’ published by Global Industry Analysts. 


In developed countries, biometrics evolved from law enforcement, through border control, to broader use purposes. Due to the identity gap, there has been a much broader application of biometrics in developing countries, especially for delivering public services, from health records and civil registries to public payrolls, pensions and voter registration to name a few. In the more affluent nations, governments have the capacity to carry out national identity programs while in the developing nations, solutions providers are better equipped and experienced. This means there are opportunities for companies to win large national contracts and gain a foothold in local and national markets.


In Africa, where over half of the nearly one billion people without legal identity reside, there are many examples of how transformative biometric technology has been for individuals, companies and the way in which governments operate. Nearly 50 African nations have been issued e-passports in a drive to push biometric IDs.


In Zimbabwe, the Public Service Commission implemented a biometric system and in 2020 they used it to discover 3,000 ‘ghost workers’ on the payroll. They were then able to remove them and save the country money.


In Tanzania in 2020, the government made it mandatory for SIM card users to register their SIM cards biometrically, so now the majority of citizens have a biometric ID. This was a big step to successfully start rolling out biometrics in developing countries at a large scale, allowing the citizens time to adjust and paving the way forward for the installation of biometrics in other applications.


There have been initiatives put in place across West Africa with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation naming biometrics, bank accounts and mobile phones the ‘trinity’ that will lead to digital inclusion. 


The president of ID4 Africa, Dr. Joseph Atick commented on the scope of the issue,


“If they don’t exist officially, they cannot have a stake in society, and as a consequence, it’s a priority to rectify. It’s a priority for development agencies because of the opportunity to empower the development indicators.’

To find out more about the biometric solutions we offer at Arana Security, click here.