Friday, November 26, 2004

The front page of the Guardian reports that there has been a massive IT failure at the Department for Work and Pensions this week.

"Pension and benefit payments face disruption after what is being described as the biggest computer crash in government history left as many as 80,000 civil servants staring at blank screens and reverting to writing out giro cheques by hand in the latest blow to a hi-tech Whitehall revolution."

This is the system which will need to 'talk' to the proposed ID card system, that amongst other things according to David Blunkett, is going to solve the problem of benefit fraud. Mmmmm, a new IT catastrophe communicating with an old IT catastrophe. That sure does inspire a lot of confidence in the notion that ID cards will cut benefit fraud.

On another biometric related story, the EU Council of Ministers appear to be attempting ot pull a fast one by putting pressure on the EU Parliament to rush through the compulsory biometric passports for all EU citizens. Apparently the Dutch Presidency of the EU:

"are pushing hard for a decision at its plenary session in Brussels on 1-2 December on the grounds that a decision is urgently needed to meet the deadline set by the USA under its Visa Waiver Programme for:

"authentication idendifiers that comply with applicable biometric identifying standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation"

This begs a fundamental question as the ICAO standard says:

"Facial recognition was selected as the globally interoperable biometric for machine-assisted identity confirmation with MRTDs [Machine Readable Travel Documents]"

"Facial recognition" can be met by the simple digitisation of current passport photos - this is not a biometric. "Facial recognition", or "facial image" in the Council's draft, can refer either to simple digitisation or to a "facial scan" which is a biometric (the scan collects up to 1,820 characteristics from each individuals face). "Facial recognition" not fingerprints were selected as the global standard by the ICAO.

US demands can be met by the Council's old draft - mandatory facial image and optional fingerprinting - so how can the decision be termed "urgent"? The USA does not require fingerprints to be used in foreign countries passports.

More importantly the purported legal basis for the measure concerns control of the EU's external borders not the demands of a non-EU state."

Yet the EC (Nice) Treaty says any EU legislation on the free movement of EU citizens:

"shall not apply to provisions on passports, identity cards, residence permits or any other such document"

which presumably means the EU are expressly forbidden from legislating to introduce compulsory biometrics on passports. But given enough lawyers and politicians the meaning can no doubt be reversed.

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