We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

U.K. to issue biometric passports worldwide

Steve Ranger of Silicon.com reports that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is spending 5 million pounds (about $8.7 million) to equip its embassies and consulates around the world with the technology to issue biometric passports. Technology company 3M will install new passport issuance systems that can identify biometric information at 104 embassies, consulates and high commissions.

Great, who needs ID cards, when you get your fingerprints in the passport.

Fingering EU

A reader forwards the following information:

On October 25th, without any consultation, the Council of European Union introduced a change to this legislation, calling for the mandatory fingerprinting of all EU citizens, residents and visitors.

This, along with the passport could form the basis of an intrusive EU wide identity card, similar to that the current British government is proposing at national level, and certainly would enable EU-wide surveillance of everyone’s movements.

The organisations Privacy International, Statewatch and European Digital Rights have written an open letter to MEPs. They are calling for endorsements of this letter, please email privacyint@privacy.org if you wish to do this. (The email address (terrrights@privacy.org) given on PI’s web page for this purpose bounced.)

They are also calling for people to contact their MEPs over this by November 30th. You can find UK MEPs’ emails here. For those EU residents not in the UK, these links should help.

Biometric pilot program to tighten U.S. borders

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun collecting digital fingerprints and pictures of visitors at three major U.S. land border crossings. Kimberly Weissman, spokeswoman for the DHS’s US-VISIT Program said:

We are testing this at these three locations before we roll out the technology at the top-50 land border entry points.

As part of the pilot, fingerprint readers and digital cameras will be used on the southern U.S. border at Douglas, Ariz., and Laredo, Texas, and on the northern border at Port Huron, Mich. Less than 5 percent of the more than 100 million border crossings currently require that the visitors be documented, Weissman said. The other crossings are typically visitors with a Border Crossing Card, which allows people to travel within 25 miles of the border for a period of 30 days.

By the end of the year, the Department of Homeland Security plans to have digital cameras and fingerprint technology in use at the 50 busiest land crossings, which account for the vast majority of traffic across the U.S. border, Weissman said. There are 165 land-border crossings in total. When completed, the US-VISIT program will record the comings and goings of every foreign visitor and let U.S. homeland security officials know when people have overstayed their visas.

Big Brother’s Passport to Pry

Privacy advocates are appalled by the ongoing plan to equip all U.S. passports with RFID chips that can be read surreptitiously from a distance Business Week reports. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier says:

We do need passports with more data. But they chose a chip that can be queried remotely and surreptitiously. I can’t think of any reason why the government would do that, other than that they want surreptitious access. And if airport and border security guards can read everyone’s passports on the sly, so could anyone with a radio-chip reader, from terrorists to identity thieves.

2-Fingerprint Border ID System Called Inadequate

Washington Post reports that Rep. Jim Turner sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who wrote that terrorists who alter their fingerprints have about an even chance of slipping past U.S. border watch-list checks because the government is using a two-fingerprint system instead of one that relies on all 10 prints. He mentioned a study by researchers at Stanford University who concluded the two-finger system is no more than 53 percent effective in matching fingerprints with poor image quality against the government’s biometric terrorist watch-list. Turner said the system falls far short of keeping the country secure.

Turner accused homeland security officials of failing to be “more forthcoming” about the limitations of their approach.

I understand your desire to deploy biometric screening at our borders as quickly as possible. But more than three years after the 9/11 attacks, we have invested more than $700 million in an entry-exit system that cannot reliably do what the Department so often said it would: Use a biometric watch-list to keep known terrorists out of the country.

How about not using terrorists as an excuse for tagging the citizens?

Biometrics in the US

Department of Defense (DoD) Biometrics announced that it has released a new Biometrics 101 Tutorial video and a publication entitled What DoD Thinks of Biometrics on its website. Both informational pieces – designed to contribute to the DoD community’s understanding of biometrics – can be accessed here.

The Biometrics 101 Tutorial video is a collaborative effort between the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington D.C. and DoD Biometrics. Presented by Lieutenant Colonel Craig Kaucher (U.S. Army Ret.), the video provides an introduction to biometric technologies, basic concepts, and societal issues associated with biometrics.

‘I’ve got a biometric ID card’

Biometric testing of face, eye and fingerprints could soon be used on every resident of the UK to create compulsory identity cards. BBC News Online’s Tom Geoghegan volunteered for a pilot scheme and looked, unblinking, into the future.

What was interesting about article that it is obvious that Home Office is trying to make the process as ‘palatable’ to people, so it is not too Big Brotherish…

This isn’t a test of the technology – that’s likely to change in the future as things move on – it’s the process. We’re looking for customer reactions and perceptions, and any particular difficulties.

Just don’t make it feel like Big Brother although that’s what you’ll be getting.

Biometric Passport Program Hits Snag

Internetnews.com reports that the U.S. Senate voted to delay by one year the looming Oct. 26 deadline for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to begin issuing machine-readable passports. The House of Representatives has already approved a one-year extension.

The VWP allows visitors from Europe, Japan, Australia and 22 other countries to visit the United States without having to obtain a visa. In 2002, Congress approved the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which required those countries to issue tamper-resistant passports that incorporate biometric identifiers.

According to the U.S. Department of State, neither the United States nor any of the larger VWP countries, including England, France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Spain or Japan, are in a position to meet the Oct. 26 deadline.

The legislation now goes to the White House, and, although President Bush sought a two-year delay, he is expected to sign the bill.

Maura Harty, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that a delay in the program implementation is necessary because of technological challenges encountered by the United States and the visa waiver countries. She cited issues, such as chip availability, the security of the data on the embedded chips and the international interoperability of readers.

Harty said the United States does not expect delivery of the 64 kilobyte “contactless” chips needed for the passports until next year, and the State Department does not anticipate completing the transition to biometric passports until the end of 2005.

9/11 report urges info sharing, biometrics

FCW.com reports that the long-awaited 9/11 Commission report from the bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks calls for better information sharing among government agencies, adoption of biometric technologies and the completion of a visitor tracking system as soon as possible.

The report called for better technology and training to detect terrorist travel documents and the use of biometric identifiers, or unique physical characteristics, to authenticate such documents. United States officials are taking steps already, such as requiring foreign visitors to have machine-readable, tamper-resistant passports with embedded biometric identifiers. However, commission officials said Americans should not be exempt from carrying biometric passports as well.

The Homeland Security Department should complete a biometric entry/exit screening system, called the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program as soon as possible, according to the report. There should be improved use of no-fly lists to screen airline passengers as discussions for revamping the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II continue.

I so look forward to travelling to the US…

Microsoft, biometrics firm to tackle homeland security

Security software company Saflink said today that it would work with Microsoft to develop software for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, sending its shares to its highest level in a month. Mark Belk, Microsoft’s chief architect for homeland security software said:

Together, we provide a compelling solution for Homeland Security programs involving biometrics, smart cards, tamper-proof identities and physical security controls.

Compelling for whom…

I’ve got you under my skin

The Guardian reports that a number of VIP clubbers at a Barcelona nightclub have been implanted with a chip in their upper arm. Steve van Soest, spokesman for the club explains:

One of our owners wanted to do something special for our new VIP section. He’d read about the chip in newspapers, so we started to see if it was possible and legal here in Spain. It was.

Since its launch, 25 people have had the chip injected into their upper arm by a registered doctor at the club, which also plans to use the technology in its sister club in Rotterdam.

Now, however despicable and unacceptable I find compulsory tagging and identification, this is voluntary. These people have chosen to have the chip injected and I see no reason to get excited about that. I will, however, object to the state or other institutions forcing me to do it either by straightforward coercion backed by law or by not giving me a choice.

Biometrics Bandwagon Outpacing Privacy Safeguards

Jay Cline writes for ComputerWorld:

Governments and corporations increasingly see biometrics as the primary way they’ll identify people in the future. In an age of terrorism and fraud, they hope fingerprint and eye scanning will become the cheapest and most reliable means of verifying that people are who they say they are. But are we ready for this convergence of computers with our flesh and bones? I don’t think so. This significant intrusion into our personal space needs a heightened level of privacy protection that most organizations have only just started to envision.

I have a deeper misgiving about biometrics. Because they promise to be much more cost-effective and reliable than traditional authentication methods, I expect businesses will want to adopt biometrics-only authentication, discarding expensive traditional methods.

Three types of system failures could make your life miserable: a failed match, a mistaken match and stolen biometrics… Biometric ID theft victims may never fully clear their names.

Cline goes on to give a checklist of the top controls customers and citizens should demand before cooperating with biometric systems. Since I think that should be never, if you want to know, you’ll have to go and read it yourself…