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Jakarta Post

Government trials facial recognition system to improve social aid disbursement

  • Eisya A. Eloksari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, May 22, 2020   /   04:55 pm
Government trials facial recognition system to improve social aid disbursement A woman uses the facial recognition feature on her phone. The government has tried out a facial recognition verification system to make it easier for recipients to claim social assistance. (Shutterstock/Hadrian)

The government has tried out a facial recognition verification system to make it easier for recipients to claim social assistance.

The National Team for Accelerated Poverty Reduction (TNP2K) said that its trial of the system to disburse subsidized household gas, staple food assistance and subsidized electricity last year had an average success rate of 85.2 percent.

The trials were conducted in cooperation with e-wallet platform LinkAja in three regions, namely Madiun in East Java, Sleman in Central Java and North Penajam Passer in East Kalimantan.

“Facial recognition technology can be used for all citizens, even in rural areas,” TNP2K policy working group head Elan Satriawan said during a webinar hosted by the Indonesia Fintech Association (Aftech) on Wednesday.

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He added that the biometric data could be obtained through the Home Ministry’s e-identification card (e-KTP) database.

The government’s social assistance has mostly been channeled through various types of cards connected to the recipients’ bank accounts, allowing them to use the cards to shop for basic needs at appointed merchants.

With the new system, recipients only need to visit a designated merchant where facial scanning technology will be used to verify their identity.  

Utilizing financial technology is more cost and time efficient than disbursing aid through the cards, as the cost of producing the cards, distribution and maintenance of electronic data capture (EDC) machines can reach Rp 1 trillion (US$67.5 million), Elan added.

“We received feedback that people find it hard to keep their social aid cards or remember their PIN [personal identification number], so [the facial recognition verification] is a simpler solution that I believe people can adapt to quickly,” he stated.

The technology also lowers costs for the recipients, as they do not need to own a smartphone to access the assistance, he added.

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“Even though the cards are currently considered the most accessible and inclusive method for disbursing aid, the government needs to collaborate with fintech service providers to innovate and reach more people,” said Social Affairs Ministry technology and social welfare expert staff member Andi ZA Dulung during the same discussion.

He acknowledged that digital disparities still posed a challenge to the ministry’s efforts to reach underprivileged people in remote areas.

Recently, experts criticized the use of online platforms to disburse COVID-19 relief, as the country’s low internet penetration rate and internet literacy had prevented some people from accessing the assistance.

Furthermore, the government still faces challenges to integrating and storing citizens’ data, said Home Ministry Population and Civil Registration (Dukcapil) Director General Zudan Arif Fakrulloh.

“Our infrastructure is also outdated, so we cannot store every citizens' biometric data in our system,” he said, adding that the directorate general would collect additional funds to upgrade its infrastructure by charging users to access population and civil data.  

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He admitted that another challenge was that each ministry kept their own data on social assistance recipients, resulting in uneven and unfair distribution.

Last year, the Home Ministry considered connecting regional governments’ closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems to Dukcapil’s data bank to allow for facial recognition and fingerprint matching.  

However, experts said this could lead to data leaks if the government hired a third party to operate the CCTV systems and warned that it could also lead to privacy violations if not implemented with sufficient safeguards.