Biometric Security Could Stop Illegal Taxi Drivers

Several months have passed since the authorities had a go at regulating working hours of cab drivers, and ride-hailing still remains a safety issue.

According to latest figures, 70% of road accidents in Moscow last year involved a taxicab. With extra-long shifts are not now believed to be the root cause of these dire statistics, the police and town authorities are now thinking that illegal drivers from immigrant backgrounds are to blame. Private drivers from poorer CIS countries constitute 40% of Moscow’s cabmen, accessing trips booking through one of the ride-hailing sites. The police recently admitted an inability to check immigrant drivers’ competence, or even the validity of their licences.

In November 2019, Rostelecom project director Iliya Nesterovsky proposed that all drivers must pass through a biometric gate to get access to ride-hailing. Rostelecom is an exclusive technological partner for the Unified Biometric System (UBS), a nation-wide project of remote access for the citizens to banking services. Its authentication technology combines face and voice recognition via a dedicated smartphone app. Nesterovsky said: “Biometric data can be shared with surveillance institutions, police, and ride-hailing aggregators. The system can determine if a cab is driven by the authorized driver, monitor their basic behavior patterns. Aggressive driving detection and personal accident-proneness rate can be intergrated.”

Biometric authentication will be an integral part of a comprehensive new set of federal regulations currently in preparation, Stanislav Shvagerus, head of the competence center at ANO International Eurasian Forum Taxi, said to the author in a phone interview. Its core element is a unified taxi driver digital profile. When the new law comes to force, cabmen will be required to register with the federal database connected also to the police and migration service databases, ride-hailing operator’s websites, and more. “Before we’re ready to embrace the potential of biometry, the database design and the legislative nuances must be carefully worked out,” he said. “Without it, biometric authentication would be just another entrance to the trip booking system.”

He further explained that the unified database would incorporate data taken from telematic devices, and drowsiness and alcohol detectors, to quickly respond to aggressive or drink-driving, and support unbiased decisions based on driving style and the history of traffic rules offences.

The majority of law-abiding drivers and taxi companies will benefit from convenience of one-account-for-all-purposes paradigm, Shvagerus said. For instance, connecting the digital profile to the driver’s personal bank account would make transfer of trip fares and paying taxes a transparent automatic process, protecting drivers from corruption and bureaucracy.

Are drivers okay?

Meanwhile, ride-hailing operators deny the link of the collision trend to competence of private cabmen. “The number of road accidents grows in direct proportion with the demand for a concrete transportation modality,” said Zoya Avstriyskaya, head of PR department at ride-hailing company Vezёt. “Vehicle branding is another reason why taxi cabs stand out from the traffic,” including in the event of an accident.

Operators welcome the future changes of legislation but warn against implementing new technologies without thorough examination. “Our company had not studied biometry yet,” said Avstriyskaya. “Implementing such technology would require collecting large volumes of biometric data which is not mandatory yet for Russian citizens, including taxi drivers.” Instead, she proposed that “road safety can benefit from… new medical checkup technologies as described in the draft bill.”

Attacking the flanks

Rostelecom boasts accuracy of identification as high as one error per 10 million successful authentications, “much better than a human cashier would do”.

“Unlike hard copies of licences, digital profile cannot be ripped off,” Shvagerus added.

Nevertheless, other types of vulnerabilities should not be neglected, said Vladimir Dashchenko, head of ICS CERT vulnerability research team at Kaspersky Lab: “It’s hard to predict actions of malicious hackers but if the system is built with flaws, these will soon be found and exploited. For instance, some of the serious bugs in the face recognition software could potentially present a fraud with an opportunity to access others’ accounts with a photo of an account owner or a mask.”

Also, the database can be breached. Dashchenko: “One risk is that of theft of biometric data. It would open ways to manufacturing fake “digital clones” of drivers, making the whole problem of fraud drivers worse.” There is time to fix the concerned threats as, according to Shvagerus, the legislative work will take another three to five years to accomplish.

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