Feeds

Collar the lot of us! The biometric delusion

Optimism beats evidence in the drive to fingerprint the world

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Special report Until the 16th century, educated opinion, as codified by Ptolemy, held that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. Then along came Copernicus.

On 29 June 2009, the Identity & Passport Service (IPS) published their latest paper on the National Identity Service (NIS). According to Safeguarding Identity (pdf), "the vision for the NIS is that it will become an essential part of everyday life, underpinning interactions and transactions between individuals, public services and businesses and supporting people to protect their identity" (para.3.32).

Early adopter

Placing the NIS at the centre of social interaction like this makes IPS about 92 million miles wide of the mark.

How is the NIS supposed to achieve IPS's vainglorious objective? “Our intention is that, at the core of the information used to prove identity will be biometrics, such as photographs and fingerprints” (para.3.6).

It follows that, in the eyes of IPS, the NIS stands or falls on the reliability of the biometrics chosen. If they don’t work, the NIS can’t work.

When he was Home Secretary, David Blunkett told us that biometrics "will make identity theft and multiple identity impossible. Not nearly impossible. Impossible". That is the commonly held view.

It may be the commonly held view, but is it correct?

Ask the Home Office's scientists

Not everyone agrees. Dr Tony Mansfield and Mr Marek Rejman-Greene, for example, opened their February 2003 report to the Home Office by saying the exact opposite: “Biometric methods do not offer 100% certainty of authentication of individuals” (para.4).

Tony Mansfield specialises in biometric device testing at the National Physical Laboratory and Marek Rejman-Greene is the Senior Biometrics Advisor at the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB). Who is right? Those two individuals? Or David Blunkett and all the politicians and civil servants and journalists in the UK and abroad who agree with him?

For Copernicans, the answer depends on the evidence.

There follows a review of the biometrics evidence that has come to light over the past six years.

Tony Mansfield and Marek Rejman-Greene’s report makes the distinction between two different jobs for biometrics – identification (section 2.1) and verification (section 2.2).

Identification is the job of proving that each person has one and only one entry on the population register. Professor John Daugman, the father of biometrics based on the iris, demonstrates easily that that job is not feasible for large populations.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
UK Parliament rubber-stamps EMERGENCY data grab 'n' keep bill
Just 49 MPs oppose Drip's rushed timetable
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
Delaware pair nabbed for getting saucy atop Mexican eatery
Burrito meets soft taco in alleged rooftop romp outrage
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.