Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Roger Clarke is getting exorcised about the Australian government's misrepresentation of the value of face recognition technologies.

"It's very likely that a project called SmartGate, conducted by the Australian Customs Service, will be trumpeted throughout the world as the good news that face-recognition technology has been waiting for.

This email contains an assessment of the extreme manipulation of data, truth and the media on which such 'good news' stories will be based...

The brazenness of Custom's manipulation of media and public opinion exceeds the standards normally expected of the Government.

(1) No data has been provided, despite assurances given in the past that data would be provided.

(2) The invited experts who were paraded by Customs are arguably about the world's two foremost designers of testing for biometric technologies.

But is appears that:

they did not *perform* the tests
they did not *design* the tests...

... The best quotation that Customs seem to have been able to extract from the two experts was that "the scheme's performance is remarkably good for an operational facial recognition system".

That seems quite positive, until you realise that the other attempts around the world have been abject failures, and pilot after pilot has been quietly abandoned.

In other words, the quotation can be readily interpreted as "it doesn't work very well, but it's better than the other disasters we've seen".

This is borne out by an answer by one of the experts to a reporter's question. He said: "In one test 100 company employees attempted to impersonate someone other than themselves and eight of them were falsely accepted by the system. That is a very
low rate of false accepts". At that"very low" level of false acceptances, every 747-load of people can include 25-30 terrorists..."

Roger is clearly not too happy and you can't blame him. Deployment of lousy expensive technology to create the illusion of improved security does nobody any favours. And whilst the over-stretched authorities are distracted dealing with processing those 25-30 innocents per planeload, the real terrorists have a clear run at their targets.

Roger has an informative general introduction to biometrics on the web.

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