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Biometrics exhibit blushes over email snafu

Fingerprints, iris scans sprayed to all comers

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An exhibition designed to show off the whizzy high-tech futurescape of biometric identity has succumbed to a bout of very contemporary gremlins, by emailing dozens of fingerprints and iris scans to the wrong people.

After being contacted by El Reg the website where the Wellcome Collection's "Medicine Now" show offers visitors the chance to view their biometrics data, and see it expressed as as a unique pretty flower diagram, has been suspended. A message on the site says: "We are currently experiencing technical difficulties. Please check back soon."

The security glitch was spotted by Reg reader Robert, who visited the Wellcome Collection last Sunday. The email he received today contained working links to 36 individuals' fingerprint, iris scan and special flower.

The Wellcome Trust, which owns the Wellcome Collection, sent us this statement:

The Wellcome Trust would like to apologise for any concern caused by the recent technical error in its Biometrics interactive exhibit at Wellcome Collection. The exhibit captures a person's pulse rate, height, age, fingerprint and iris scan and generates a "biometric identity" expressed as a graphic icon. The user is then invited to receive a copy of their biometric identity by email.

It has come to our attention that a technical error has resulted in users of the exhibit receiving URL links to data sets of around 40 other users. These profiles do not contain identifiers such as names or email addresses.

The Wellcome Trust has investigated whether erroneous transmission of the data captured could constitute a breach of confidentiality or pose a security risk. It is satisfied that this is not the case.

We can reassure visitors that no attributable personal information has been passed on, but understand our visitors' concerns and have therefore removed the exhibit from use until any technical issues can be resolved.

On the visitor pages we saw fingerprint and iris scans were low-res, black and white images. The emails indeed didn't contain anyone else's name or email address. Very likely no harm done then, but as a sojourn in Tomorrow's World™ it's hardly a confidence-builder. ®

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