Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday 21 October 2004

Doubts over biometric facescan technology

New UK passports issued after the ned of next year will include new technology for identifying the bearer, including biometric facescans. It seems these fail to work correctly in 10% of cases. This technology is quite obviously not yet at a stage where its use should be contemplated in 'live' situations.

Home Office Minister Fiona Mactaggart's bland assurances that the public should not be concerned:

"This technology is not foolproof. No country is looking just to depend on the biometrics technology. They are relying on all the other things that are used."

do not reassure me one little bit, specially when she goes on to say that immigration officials will also be allowed to question people at airports just as they do now. Well of course that is only right and proper, but what it will likely mean in practice is that the flaws in this technolgy will:
- allow some people to pass through who should not be permitted to do so;
- cause a lot of inconvenience, and quite possibly distress, to many people who are incorrectly identified as not being in conformity with the documents they carry.

I have never made any secret of my dislike of the whole notion of carrying ID cards, but to have our passports based on such a 'hit-or-miss' technology is not likely to increase public confidence that our government is acting in the public's best interests, but is quite possibly going to inflict a further layer of confusion and distrust at the government's motives. I think the government is blurring two concepts - 'protection' and 'control' - which a government in a democracy has no business blurring.

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