Beginning in June, kiosks fitted with cameras will be installed at a limited number of government agencies, and instead of presenting an ID card, citizens will be able to check in for services with just their faces.
The facial recognition system is a major expansion of the Smart Nation Initiative, which began in 2014 and through which the state has built up a biometric database on more than four million Singaporeans over the age of 15.
The facial recognition kiosks will crosscheck each new scan against this database to verify a person’s identity. The kiosks will also work in tandem with SingPass Mobile, an app launched in 2018 that allows people to register their own fingerprint and faceprint with the government’s biometric database.
Last year, the Singapore Tourism Board launched a limited test program of the facial recognition program in select hotels, allowing users to check in just by looking into a camera for a few seconds.
Through the connection between SingPass and the government biometric database, it hopes facial recognition will become the default identification at commercial and retail establishments.
The government hopes to transition to using the facial recognition software to process all payments to and from citizens by 2023.
By 2025, the government hopes that the SingPass app in tandem with its expansive network of facial recognition cameras will eliminate the need for paper checks entirely.
The only thing a person would need to complete a transaction in a shop would be their face and a phone to verify the final amount charged to their profile.
The benefits of such an expansive biometric program, the government contends, is that private corporations won’t have control over sensitive data.
‘In particular, only officers with legitimate use of the data would be able to access the data,’ Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation, said.
Balakrishnan went on to say that the businesses would benefit as well, as they’d have the productivity gains of the all-encompassing biometric system without having to pay for any of the associated costs of operating or maintaining it.
The country is already testing several neighbourhood-wide networks of surveillance cameras installed on lamp posts around the country’s capital. It is targeting 2022 to begin opening up data collected from these public monitoring tools to the public and industry.
How Does Facial Recognition Technology Work?
Facial recognition software works by matching images captured in real time on digital cameras to a previously recorded digital photograph of a person’s face.
Each face has approximately 80 unique nodal, or reference, points across the eyes, nose, cheeks and mouth which distinguish one person from another.
When you are enrolled on a facial biometric system, a digital camera captures your image. The software measures the distance between nodal points on your face to take key measurements such as the width of the nose, depth of the eye sockets, distance between the eyes and shape of the jawline.
This produces a unique numerical code, or faceprint, which is used to establish your identity. Your faceprint can be tested in two distinct ways.
When you enter an eGate, the chip in your passport or ID card carries your faceprint. When you present the card to the system the machine reads your faceprint, captures your digital image on a camera, and calculates the faceprint of the image it has captured. It then compares the faceprint you have presented with the faceprint of the image it has captured. If the comparison is matched, then you have successfully asserted your identity and the barrier opens. If the comparison is not matched, then your identity has not been verified. This type of test is called a one-to-one test.
In a one-to-many test you do not generally assert your identity against a previously stored faceprint of yourself but rather a digital video camera scans a group of unknown faces and quickly calculates the individual faceprints.
The facial recognition system is often linked to a ‘watch list’ of previously stored faceprints of persons of interest which might include convicted criminals, suspected terrorists or people listed as missing.
The system is searching for a strong match between the faceprint of a person captured in the surveillance system and one on the watch list.
Such live facial recognition systems are used by officials in China, which connects millions of CCTV cameras around the country and uses artificial intelligence to pick out persons of interest. Recently this type of surveillance has been deployed by the government in a bid to contain the country’s coronavirus outbreak. Working with tech firms, the surveillance system is being used to monitor citizens and track confirmed cases of infection with the Covid-19 virus.
Some experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people.