With every passing hour, the world continues to tussle with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus pandemic has become a global calamity, leaving millions vulnerable, economies shattered, and countries under lockdown. It is well known how badly mankind has been impacted by this deadly virus. And what makes it even worse is the fact that even after continuous and aggressive efforts of experts worldwide, there is no vaccine or medicine invented till date to completely cure the damage occurred or to be occurred by this virus. Having said that, various precautionary measures are adopted by people and some are suggested by experts in order to reduce the chances of falling prey to COVID-19.
Taking the Indian scenario into consideration, an unprecedented and bold move taken by the Indian Government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 was Nationwide Lockdown from 24th March 2020. The lockdown continued till 8th June 2020 in a phased manner, limiting movement of the entire 1.3 billion population of India.
In addition to the Nationwide Lockdown, other indirect preventative measures include promotion for usage of more of digital payments and less of cash by the Government of India since cash can transmit the virus from person to person. Besides this, businesses, State and Local Government bodies in India were also told to suspend contact-based biometric attendance systems that used fingerprint scanning for authentication, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While these efforts definitely need to be applauded but digging deeper into these measures, chances of virus spread persist. Considering digital payments acceptance through Aadhaar-enabled Payment System (AePS) which allow customers to make payment through their Aadhaar-linked bank accounts without debit/credit cards but with a fingerprint scan as an Aadhaar-authentication mechanism. In April 2020 and May 2020, a total of 808.49 million AePS transactions took place. Rephrasing this – 808.49 million fingerprint scans (ignoring the number of failed attempts) in the times when we are in Stage 2 (local transmission) of COVID-19 spread.
In addition to AePS, another technology used for Financial Inclusion and Last-Mile Delivery is Micro ATMs which enables the beneficiaries, residing in the areas with negligible bank reach, to withdraw, deposit or transfer money from their bank accounts without visiting a bank’s branch. Currently, the model works with the help of the Bank’s authorized Banking Correspondent who brings handheld terminals with a fingerprint scanner attached to it. In order to perform a banking transaction, the beneficiary has to scan their fingerprints as the Aadhaar-authentication mechanism. Many other Government benefits and subsidies are also provided to the financially weaker sections of the society using the same Aadhaar-authentication technology which requires the beneficiary to scan their fingerprints in order to leverage the benefit.
Besides the traditional and well-known disadvantages of the fingerprint scanning technology such as high cost, inaccuracy, large number of rejections and chances of duplicacy; the biggest disadvantage of this technology is the physical contact involved between the finger and the touchpad, and the subsequent contact by another person on the same (contagious) touchpad. Considering the current scenario of the ongoing pandemic where social distancing and minimizing physical contact is the need of the hour, fingerprint scanning based authentication turns out to be the hotbed for the virus spread. Since it is humanly impossible to sanitize the touchpad of the fingerprint scanners before every use, such technology that can significantly contribute to the spread of the contagion should be avoided.
Furthermore, the Indian economy is all set for the Unlock 1 which is a stepping stone towards the reopening of the economy in a phased manner. Almost all the economic activities will resume in this phase with proper guidelines to operate and preventative measures in place. As the economy reopens and businesses resume their operations, there will be a need for an attendance system for managing the workforce. Due to the observed favoritism for fingerprint technology, it is predicted that this will again lead to the adoption of the Fingerprint-based Attendance System, although the alternatives are available in the market.
As mentioned earlier also, considering these Corona-hit times where social distancing and minimizing physical contact is the primary focus of every strategy being implemented and every preventive measure being taken, fingerprint scanning based attendance system can be the major source for the virus spread.
At a time when our society is at a standstill, technology has already started to make a difference in many ways. Its high time to think about the alternative to this traditional and contagious technology and replace it with better alternatives which are touchless such as Iris or Facial recognition. These ensure superiority over fingerprint with respect to lower cost, better accuracy and lower rejection rates. However, considering the current scenario, where wearing face masks is the new normal, facial recognition will also lead to 100% rejection rates. This leaves us with the most advanced and accurate technology – Iris. This technology also works well for the person wearing specs or for the person undergone cataract surgery or any other eye-related issue.
Though it is pointed out time and again that there is a need to reconsider the authentication mechanism currently in use and that the touchless biometric option like iris is available in the market, organizations are still reluctant to switch from fingerprint technology due to inertia. But this time, it’s a matter of national safety and thus, it’s time to move to a touchless biometric in the interest of national safety.
We have the opportunity to rethink. If we do things right, we may fix the challenges being faced by mankind today and overpower the ongoing pandemic, making it a thing of the past.