Justice systems around the world punish first-time offenders more lightly than repeat offenders.
To do this, there is a need for a formal system to record offenses and a reliable way to identify offenders.
Alphonse Bertillon, a French police officer and researcher, applied anthropometry (the measurement of the size and proportions of the human body) to law enforcement by creating an identification system based on physical measurements in the 1800s.
Known as “Bertillonage”, these measurements were written on cards that could be sorted by height, arm length or other parameters.
This prevented repeat criminal offenders from lying to enforcers as they often provided different aliases when arrested. However, they were unable to change certain elements of their bodies hence were identified using Bertillon’s system.
It was generally accepted for 30 years until the occurence of a case where two criminals looked exactly alike and had Bertillon measurements close enough to identify them as the same person.
However, a fingerprint comparison identified them as two different individuals.
The use of prints for identifying criminals goes as far back as the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 BC) in China, where records showed that enforcement personnel would take hand prints and foot prints from a crime scene and match them with impressions made of the hands and feet of suspects.
Sir Francis Galton, a 19th century scientist, first showed scientifically how fingerprints could be used to identify individuals by discovering that no two fingerprints are exactly alike, and that they remain constant throughout an individual’s lifetime.
The International Criminal Police Organisation’s (Interpol) Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) database of fingerprints contained more than 198,000 fingerprint records for important international criminal records from 190 member countries as of December last year.
Today, fingerprints are used by various parties, from financial institutions to enforcement agencies, and different kinds of biometric technology, varying from facial recognition, DNA profiles, palm prints, hand geometry to iris recognition, are being used.
Locally, the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) began looking into modernising its processes and digitising paper records in the 1990s.
Back then, the force was using a Rolodex-style filing device to store information on criminals.
Seeing this opportunity, Yasmin Teknologi Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Rashid Ghani, stepped forward to help the PDRM’s modernisation by competing to offer an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) to manage the country’s criminal fingerprints.
Choosing to work with technology developed by Safran Morpho of France, Yasmin Teknologi won the bid in 1995, beating two other multinational companies for a RM10.1mil project.
“For security reasons, we had to send over 800,000 files in batches to a secure Federal Bureau of Investigation facility in Seattle, in the US under strict supervision of the PDRM,” Rashid told MetroBiz.
The digitalisation process, done according to the protocols of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Interpol and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), took 18 months, inclusive of setting up the system in Bukit Aman.
“With the system in place, all information on criminals, such as pictures and palm prints, is available instantly when needed,” he said.
The system meets international standards and this allows PDRM to send information to Interpol and vice-versa to facilitate investigations.
With the successful implementation of the system, a second phase was executed in 1998 for Sabah and Sarawak.
Fresh from their PDRM project, Yasmin Teknologi saw the opportunity for doing a project with the National Registration Department (JPN) in 1997 to digitise the records of 18 million citizens.
This meant converting close to 72 million fingerprints and 36 million photographs.
Achieved in 16 months, the use of the FBI’s proven Fingerprint Image Conversion Operation (FICO) ensured the integrity and security of documents.
Again, there were other competitors and JPN required a specific algorithm that would be able to scan the thumbprints of juveniles, specifically those aged 12, for a person to be issued an identity card.
The algorithm was vital as it was required to translate the image of a fingerprint so it could be matched across databases.
“After we won the contract in 1997, we began the conversion which allowed the authorities to scan, verify and retrieve a juvenile’s thumbprint with no false positives,” he said.
The project had to be done locally to prevent false or mistaken identities being created overseas.
Rashid says the conversion exercise, using a workforce that was 97% local, was the result of efficient technology transfer from the technology partner and training provided to the local workforce.
“At the peak of the exercise, we converted in excess of 120,000 records a day, surpassing the initial projection of 80,000 by the system provider,” he said.
By 1999, Malaysia became a country with one of the largest fingerprint databases in the world, with the fingerprints of 18 million citizens digitised.
Today, Malaysia has about 25 million citizen records, though this has been superseded by FBI which now has more than 60 million fingerprint in its database since the 9/11 terrorism attack.
The digitalisation process also involved multiple parties and Rashid said it was a good experience learning from various parties.
One of the parties involved created a special camera with three lenses to capture images of the old identity card’s details of a photograph and the left and right thumbprints digitally.
The same contractors used by the FBI were also brought in to supervise the process.
In 2001, Malaysia became the first country in the world to use an identification card that incorporates both photo identification and fingerprint biometric data on a computer chip.
“We then did the software integration and conversion processes as part of the supply chain to support the MyKad and chip makers as one of the four Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) flagship applications,” he said.
Reflecting on Yasmin Teknologi’s humble beginnings, Rashid said the company started as a two-person IT department within the Yasmin Group in early 1990s.
Yasmin Group was then a stationery company, but has since grown to become a conglomerate with interests from real estate to oil and gas, education, high-end technology, agriculture and consumer services.
“Back then technology projects were starting to emerge and the Internet was slowly capturing the imagination of the techies and slowly getting into the business environment. The government was looking at IT to increase productivity and service levels,” he said.
Raising funds was a challenge and he said they were lucky that Yasmin Group invested RM100,000 to start a new company.
Rashid then roped in his old schoolmate Kwek Keng Chye, who is now executive director. He said, in the early days they had to share a computer and worked very hard.
Rashid and Kwek hold a combined 41% stake in the company, with Yasmin Group being the majority shareholder.
After their success with PDRM and JPN, the company has since expanded to providing MyKAD-based solutions to the Immigration Department, Employees Provident Fund and the banking sector which uses the platform for identification purposes.
Although the company focuses on the domestic market, mainly government agencies, they have also participated in international tenders to gain experience and to share their expertise.
Although they have not won any international bids to date, they continue to introduce new biometric technologies here, including facial recognition and DNA databanks, while doing maintenance and upgrading services to the existing clients.
“This is a niche market with great potential, but personal data and security will become bigger concerns in the future.
“We see a constant need to develop more applications and services to meet new challenges,” Rashid concluded.
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