Biometrics- Disrupting the Synthetic Identity

IdentitiesU.S. organized crime and Trans-continental criminal organizations have been engaged in a comparatively new line of business, outside of the standard operations of extortion, gambling, and the trafficking of people, drugs, and guns.  There has been an expansion into identity fraud through the creation of synthetic identities.

Identity farming is designed to cultivate a crop of synthetic identities that can be used immediately or stored indefinitely, for use in the future.  What is a synthetic identity and how can this growing issue be curbed?  Synthetic identities are created when personal information, i.e. a Social Security Number, is bought from a source with access to personal data, such as medical insurance claims or Department of Motor Vehicle records.  Another source is the cyber route as seen in the security breach at Home Depot, where the credit and debit card information of 56 million customers was compromised.  This information most likely will be used at some point to create synthetic identities.  The personal information is taken to begin the process of opening a line of credit, purchasing a phone plan, or renting an apartment. A new “synthetic” history of a person is being established.

Over a dozen public records, including telephone and utility bills, school records, employment history, property tax records, assetwealth data, and address history, are available for searches.  Background check services such as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion access these public records to provide clients with a green light in terms of a person’s credit worthiness and the validity of their identity. The analytic algorithms, used to correlate all of this data, are very sophisticated. However, as synthetic identities are set up, a background check may look like a valid, trustworthy individual. Including a biometric check as an additional data point, during the vetting process, disrupts the ability to use a synthetic identity.  Biometric verification, such as voice, face, fingerprint, DNA, or palm vein, contributes to validating the identity decision.

Both the commercial sector and the federal government’s civil and criminal agencies are focused on this problem. During a recent discussion, Anil John, lead at the GSA-Credential and Access FICAM office, stressed that federated identity systems must be open, agnostic, non-proprietary and should consider incorporating new technologies, including biometrics.

ImageWare Systems’ biometric management software design is aligned with the concept of an open, agnostic, multi-modal biometric approach for optimizing identity authentication. The goal is not more information, there is no shortage of information; the goal is legitimate information.  IWS products, including GoMobile Interactiveand GoVerifyID, have the advantage of capturing and utilizing biometrics to provide additional information to the analytics currently being employed.

Commercial entities and law enforcement officials know accurate information is better in the effort to “get it right”.    The recognition of the value and legality of collecting additional biometrics was upheld in a recent court ruling.

Maryland vs King - U.S. Supreme Court

In the State of Maryland, a swab of the cheek is part of the intake process following an arrest for a serious charge such as rape, murder, or a violent act.  This practice was challenged as an infringement of the Fourth Amendment.  The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. In order to conduct a search, a warrant must be obtained and probable cause must be presented for a warrant to be granted.   The question?  Is it legal for the booking process to allow for the collection of a DNA swab at the time of arrest? One side argued that it was an infringement of the right to privacy for an individual who had not been convicted of a crime. If an individual is arrested it is because of cause or suspicions that an individual is responsible for a crime.   The counter argument was that during arrest, it is considered reasonable to collect fingerprints, take a photo for facial line up, and photograph scars, marks, and tattoos to check against the FBI database.  By extension, why not also collect DNA to check for possible matches to past offenses.

The final ruling -When officers make an arrest, supported by probable cause, to hold for a serious offense and bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is legal under the Fourth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling, on Maryland vs King, recognizes the value of biometric data to support accurate identification.  Accurate information has the upside of proving a positive identification and preventing false convictions.

Biometric verification, using voice, facial recognition, fingerprint, DNA matching, or palm vein, has proven to be a disruptive technology.  Verification of identity by adding biometrics as an additional data point, will disrupt the efforts of criminal enterprises to create millions of synthetic identities.

Thought leaders in the identity authentication field acknowledge that multi-factor biometric verification, along with strong analytics, will be a critical piece to tackling this growing problem.


Frank and Ernest by Tom Thaves


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