Two tech firms – one owned by businessman Dermot Desmond – involved in the creation of a controversial biometric database in India, are providing services for the Government's public services card and passports.
Known as the Aadhaar project, the Indian scheme is the world’s largest ever biometric database involving 1.2 billion citizens. Initially voluntary, it became mandatory for obtaining state services, for paying taxes and for opening a bank account.
However, India’s supreme court ruled last month that privacy was a fundamental right, following a challenge to the mandatory nature of the huge biometric identification system. The ruling is likely to test the validity of the Aadhaar project.
Desmond's firm Daon produced software selected in 2010 for use in the Indian scheme. It has since provided services to the Irish Government for the public services card and passports.
Another firm Morpho described as a major contributor to the Aadhar project, formed Biometric Card Services in 2009 along with DLRS Group and Conduit to produce some three million Irish public services cards.
Daon, which describes itself as a “biometric enabling technology company” was also awarded a €1.9 million contract by the Department of Foreign Affairs last year to provide a “facial recognition solution” for the passport service.
Tender documents show the Department of Foreign Affairs required software that would, among other things, match photographs with other photos in its database, allowing it to create “one or more watchlists”.
The Department of Social Protection also uses facial identification management software provided by 3M Ireland.
Privacy and technical experts have called for clarity about the biometric software and hardware being used by Irish officials after Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said last weekend the Government was "not holding biometric data".
Dermot Casey, a former chief technology officer of Storyful, said that if the Daon system was used to store the data and carry out the facial matching then the Government "appears to have purchased a biometric database system which can be extended to include voice, fingerprint and iris identification at a moment's notice".
Katherine O’Keefe, a data protection consultant with Castlebridge, said if the departments were using images of people’s faces to single out or identify an individual, they were “by legal definition processing biometric data”.
There was “a much larger question of what other data is being shared”, she said.
“There may be many potential benefits to having a “single view” or “universal identifier” for interacting with the State, but it would have to be extremely carefully constructed with risks assessed and mitigated to ensure it does not violate fundamental rights.”