Making Aadhaar easier: UIDAI moves to allow facial recognition

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Monday moved to enable facial recognition as an additional means of Aadhaar authentication.

Aadhaar will include face recognition alongside iris or fingerprint scan as a means of verifying users, helping those who face issues in biometric authentication or have worn-out fingerprints, the authority in charge of the national identity card system said.

The UIDAI said that face authentication would be allowed "only in fusion mode" meaning along with either fingerprint or iris or OTP to verify the details of Aadhaar holder.

The facial recognition feature will be made available on registered devices from 1 July.

The move to allow face authentication comes within a week of UIDAI allowing residents to use a virtual ID to avoid sharing their unique identity numbers when accessing government and other services in a bid to protect privacy (See: UIDAI introduces Virtual ID for Aadhaar-card holders).

Face authentication would not require any new reference data as photos of citizens are already on the Aadhaar database.

"This facility is going to help in inclusive authentication of those who are not able to biometrically authenticate due to their worn out fingerprints, old age or hard work conditions," a UIDAI statement said.

Citing the difficulties faced by some residents in using the existing biometric verification mode, UIDAI said that face authentication offers an additional option for all residents to have "inclusive authentication".

To facilitate the new authentication service, the Aadhaar issuing body will work with biometric device providers to integrate face modality into the registered devices.

It will also line up software development kits that will have the ability to capture face image, check liveness, and create digitally signed and encrypted authentication input.

''Liveness is the ability to check whether it is a photograph before the camera or an actual human being. The software or the scanner needed to detect has to be more sophisticated,'' the UIDAI said.

The agencies which use Aadhaar verification will be "required to ensure inclusive authentication, when single modality is not working for specific residents...", it said.

"Face authentication as an additional modality to be used in fusion mode along with fingerprint / iris / OTP will be available in production ... by July 1, 2018," it added.

The UIDAI's first chairman Nandan Nilekani tweeted, ''Authentication via facial photo matching builds on the principle of inclusion and delivers on the promise of evolving with the times!''

At present, a person has the option to give his / her biometrics - either fingerprint or iris, along with their 12-digit identity number - during authentication or e-KYC (know your customer) for accessing various benefits and services from service providers such as banks or telecom firms. Facial recognition will now serve as an ''additional option'' for the users.

UIDAI will release the necessary details for implementation of the facility by 1 March. The Authentication User Agencies (AUAs) - entities engaged in providing Aadhaar-enabled services-have been instructed to make necessary changes in their servers to process the encrypted authentication input.

There are more than 1.19 billion Aadhaar number holders in the country.