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Biometric ID: ‘Will work, will happen and will be popular’

Says government’s partner for passport trials…

Silicon.com reports that the company behind the biometric technology being used by the UK passport office says biometric IDs will happen – and they will happen with the blessing of the majority of UK citizens.

NEC technology is being used by the UK government in the roll-out of biometric IDs and, having already been involved in similar schemes worldwide, the company is confident that the UK implementation will be a success despite vocal opposition from “a noisy minority”.

The roll-out won’t be without problems, according to Gohringer, but he anticipates that the problems will owe far more to the complicated logistics of getting everybody signed up than to the issue of end-user opposition.

People need to realise this is not going to harm them – if anything it is going to be beneficial to them.

However, Gohringer believes that those opposed to the systems are actually a very vocal minority, making enough noise to get themselves noticed. He cited recent research – supported by that conducted by silicon.com – which shows strong support for biometric identification.

Mr Gohringer just does not get it. In his world the state is probably just doing its job and those who do not see that are just so… unreasonable. And in any case, they should be silenced by all the civilised and sensible people, you know, the majority. As we are so fond of saying here, the state is not your friend and anything that looks like infringment of your freedom, most definitely is. Despite the purported ‘benefits’ that the measure should bring. The government should be justifying its existence to you on a daily basis, not you proving your identity to the government.

3 comments to Biometric ID: ‘Will work, will happen and will be popular’

  • Guy Herbert

    I think he does get it. And he is potentially right on all counts. The tyrannous effects of the Register aren’t obvious, and unless us vocal minority start talking to the oblivious majority rather than just each other, it will happen. What’s more it is popular now, and (if we are defeated) will be popular when instituted–until it is too late. The evils are invisible, and will stay invisible while they only affect very small numbers of people.

    Many of the objections have already been eroded well in advance. People are used to being asked for identifying documents and accept it as normal in situations where they ought actually to question it. Cards will make this easier.

    The gradual method of introduction, by initially tacking Registration onto the replacement of existing documents (passports and driving licenses, which have been modified to suit the system years in advance), will make the Hobson’s Choice of a “voluntary” card seem natural. And when 80% have had their arms twisted it will presented as ‘unfair’ if the rest aren’t compelled to join in. So the switch from pseudo-voluntary individual compulsion to universal compulsion will also be popular.

    Unless we can build on our truly tiny vocal minority by pointing out _practical_ issues in an understandable way, then we will eventually shout ourselves hoarse without the slightest effect on Leviathan. So we need to organise resistance, gather allies, and be more vocal NOW, while there is still a possibility of delaying or derailing the enabling legislation.

  • Harry Powell

    Evidently HMG has decided on an iris scan rather than a retinal one as previously advertised. This seems odd given the wild inaccuracy of the former. According to a sans institute report of 2003 ( http://www.giag.org/practical/GSEC/Mary_Dunker_GSEC.pdf ) the error rate for iris scans is 1:131,000 compared to 1:10,000,000 for retina recognition. Anecdotally existing iris scanners can be fooled by printed images of eyes and coloured contact lenses, but that would be of little use to someone wishes to defeat the technology since it could only flag up an error and prompt further checks. The interesting problem is to create a duplicate biometric identity on the database and pass yourself off as that person. Some testing has been done on this, namely by the private company Adventures in Color Technology Ltd ( see http://www.emediawire.com/releases/2003/1/prweb54609.php ). Their attempt to fool an iris scanner with a hand painted prosthetic iris contact lens failed due to the nature of the dye used. Yet as was pointed out in their press release other dyes exists which hold out the promise that they can defeat scanning technology.

    That there is some uncertainty here should illustrate the basic fallacy at the heart of the ID card system. If there exists a technology to defeat ID recognition, even if that technology is as yet unknown, then the one-to-one and onto relationship between the database and ID cards cannot be certain. In other words, the most we can say of ID cards is that they establish the probability of someone’s identity, which is no better than the system we already have.

  • Guy Herbert

    The duplicate issue goes further than that. Any system will not only have to deal with external duplicates as Harry Powell describes, but internal duplicates, created deliberately.

    These will come about in a number of ways:

    1. Unauthorised. It is not plausible that the system will be entirely secure from corruption.

    2. Authorised – overt. Stolen ID must be replaced, but the records of what’s stolen will need to be kept and their activity monitored.

    3. Authorised – covert. There will have to be a way for HMG to create perfect false ID for undercover police and intelligence operatives, since even if the system is not shared with other governments, it must be assumed that they (and sufficiently funded terrorists and organised criminals) will also have some use and access. If a routine interrogation of the system makes secret agents look different from their cover-stories, then not only is it no weapon against terrorism–as we already knew–but it actually undermines counterterrorism.

    Given that both false corrupt records and false authorised records can exist, but may not be distinguishable at the ordinary levels of usage, we therefore have the weird situation in which in order to be useful to crime-fighters the system must itself be made useless for crime fighting.