Pieces on the theory or practical use of biometric technology.

A letter to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph: Sir – My son’s school has just asked for a copy of each pupil’s passport. Apparently, as a Tier 4 visa sponsor, it is required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that every child has the right to be in Britain. This, despite assurances by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, in a letter to concerned organisations earlier this year, that he had “no plans to require schools to conduct nationality checks on their pupils”. Employers, doctors and now teachers: is our nation of shopkeepers being turned into an army of border guards? Richard Williams Brighton, East Sussex

Papers! Papers!

Ian Dunt writes at Hidden in the murky depths of David Cameron’s immigration speech were some nasty ideas affecting civil liberties and privacy. The prime minister, who not so long ago was deploying his best poetic rhetoric against Labour’s ID cards scheme, is planning on bringing in what appears to be a new biometric identity system. He only mentioned identity cards for migrants as an aside, but the implications are staggering. “We are already rolling out a new single secure form of identification – the biometric residence permit – for those from outside the EEA to make it easier to identify illegal migrants in the first place,” he said. This is curious. There is already a biometric ID programme for some non-EEA nationals, depending on the risk category the UK Border Agency puts their country in. What does he mean? Is he expanding it to include all non-EEA nationals, […]

Cameron’s immigration speech raises serious civil liberties questions

The BBC reports: Researchers have identified people in the US who anonymously donated their DNA for use in medical research – raising concerns about privacy. They could uncover a person’s identity using records of donated DNA coupled with other readily available sources of information on the internet. It was made possible because of large “genetic genealogy” databases which help people trace their family tree. The study was reported in the journal Science. There is a strong link in men between their surname and unique markings on the male, or Y, chromosome. These genetic markings are a useful tool when investigating a family tree as they are passed from father to son and are used in “genetic genealogy” databases. Researchers from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research used this freely available data to create a computer programme which could match unique markers to surnames. This was used to hunt through an […]

Donated genetic data ‘privacy risk’

According to Public Servant magazine: Schools are being forced to gain parental permission if they want to use pupils’ fingerprints or other biometric data, the government has confirmed. Some schools and colleges have already been using facial scanning and fingerprint identification to record attendance and allow pupils to access facilities like the school library. But under new rules schools will be required to gain written permission from parents who will be given the right to veto the use of such sensitive data. “I have heard from many angry parents after they have learned that their children’s personal data was being used by schools without their knowledge,” said schools minister Nick Gibb. “The new legislation gives the power back to parents, as it requires parental consent before the information can be collected. The new rules are out for consultation: visit the consultation page here to read them and have your say.

Pupils and parents to deny schools biometric data

Graeme Burton writes in Computing about the recently enacted Protection of Freedoms Act: Perhaps the most contentious measures involve the retention of DNA and fingerprint evidence, which is taken as a matter of routine by police from anyone they arrest and, in some circumstances, detain for questioning. Prior to the Act, police forces up and down the country were building a de facto DNA database, given that when someone was arrested but not charged with an offence, their DNA and finger print data would automatically be retained indefinitely. Under the new Act, such evidence can still be retained indefinitely if suspects have previously been found guilty of a serious crime, but will be destroyed for suspects with no previous convictions – albeit after a three-year period. On top of that, if someone – in the judgement of the chief constable – is arrested unlawfully, their DNA and fingerprints can also […]

The Protection of Freedoms Act: how it affects data

Alan Travis writes in The Guardian: Having probably queued to get into Britain, thousands of overseas residents, including senior business people and academics, now face the prospect of being unable to leave the country, possibly for weeks, because a key UK border agency computer system has crashed. Hundreds of people queueing at UKBA’s public inquiry office in Croydon, applying to extend or renew biometric residence permits, were told to go home on Thursday because the computer system could not cope. The details of more than 600,000 foreign nationals living in Britain have been logged on the biometric residents’ identity card database since it was set up four years ago. But it has suffered repeated failures in recent weeks which culminated in a complete breakdown on Thursday. All afternoon appointments have now been cancelled for the next two weeks.

UK Border Agency computer failure leaves thousands unable to travel

The Register reports: The government is to double the number of people required to have a biometric residence permit (BRP) to stay in the UK, raising the number to 400,000 a year. The system is being expanded to include refugees and those given the right to live in the UK permanently. It will mean that all non-EEA (European Economic Area) nationals applying to remain in the UK for more than six months will now need the compulsory permits. BRPs hold a person’s fingerprints and photograph on a secure chip, and can be used to confirm information on each individual’s work and benefits entitlements. From June, an online Employers’ Checking Service for BRPs will enable employers, and later in the year public authorities, to run real-time checks on whether individuals are eligible to work or access services in the UK. Most of the 650,000 BRPs issued since their introduction in 2008 […] to double number of biometric chips for immigrants

According to the Daily Telegraph: Passengers arriving at Heathrow this summer could face lengthy delays at passport control as immigration staff are being redeployed from their normal roles to collect biometric data off Olympic athletes arriving in dedicated passport lanes. Visiting athletes have been encouraged to supply biometric data – such as fingerprints and photographs – in advance but those who do not will need to have the information taken by border staff. The information will then be checked against immigration and security watch-lists of terrorists and criminals stored on a database. But the Border Agency have warned the process, which will costs more than £2 million, could result in normal passengers being delayed passing through border control.

London 2012 Olympics: passengers braced for heavy delays at Heathrow ...

Rob Hastings writes in the Independent: At the very time long passport control queues are being blamed as the root cause of the border control scandal, most registration booths for the technology designed to eliminate such waits have been closed with no sign they are to re-open. Iris recognition scanners have been introduced at several British airports in recent years to allow regular fliers to skip queues and reduce overcrowding at security gates. Yet despite the very public spat between Border Agency boss Brodie Clark and Home Secretary Theresa May over how and why security checks came to be watered down to ease three-hour log jams for passengers this summer, seven of the nine facilities for new applicants to sign up for the fast-track system are not open. Three of four offices at Heathrow are closed, as are both at Manchester airport, the solitary one at Birmingham, and one of […]

Iris-scanning registration booths scaled back

The Huffington Post reports: Theresa May suppressed a Home Office report that found changes to the DNA database would make it harder to catch murderers and rapists, according to Labour. The House of Commons is expected to pass the Protection of Freedom Bill on Monday. Under government’s plans only adults convicted or cautioned will have their DNA stored indefinitely. Those charged but eventually cleared will see their DNA stored for up to five years. But Labour have said unpublished Home Office research showed that 23,000 people every year, who under Labour’s system would be on the DNA database but under government plans will not be, will commit further offences. Labour also say the report showed 6,000 of those a year will go on to commit crimes including rape, murder and manslaughter. The analysis of the Home Office report was conducted by the House of Commons library for shadow home secretary […]

Theresa May ‘Suppressed’ Home Office DNA Database Report, Say Labour

The Press Association reports: A broad catch-all discretion enabling police to keep the DNA of innocent people indefinitely for reasons of national security should be scrapped, MPs and peers have said. Ministers have failed to provide a justification of why this power is necessary and proportionate, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) said. Its report on the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is due to go through its remaining stages in the Commons next week, said the proposals regarding the retention of DNA should be reconsidered. Home Secretary Theresa May has said the plans to curb the state’s right to intrude in private lives would see almost one million innocent people have their names removed from the national DNA database. Under the Government’s plans only adults convicted or cautioned will have their DNA stored indefinitely, while those charged but later cleared will see their profile stored for up to […]

Call to scrap DNA retention measure

Christopher Hope, and Robert Winnett write in The Daily Telegraph: The DNA of more than one million innocent people will not be wiped from police records, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. Instead the police will retain DNA profiles in anonymised form, leaving open the possibility of connecting them up with people’s names, ministers have admitted. The admission appears to break a Coalition commitment to delete all innocent profiles, apart from those accused of violent or sex crimes, from police databases. Civil liberties groups accused the Government of a “disgraceful U-turn” and a “breach of promise” to destroy innocent people’s DNA. In an editorial comment, the paper says: This was supposed to be a coalition that could at least agree on the sinister implications of mass supervision; hence the ditching of ID cards. But the effect of that liberating decision is rather cancelled out by this setback for liberty. We urge […]

Innocent people’s DNA profiles won’t be deleted after all, minister ...

R. Ramakumar, Associate Professor with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, writes in The Hindu comparing India’s ID card project with the last Labour governments’: Two countries. Two pet projects of the respective Prime Ministers. Unmistakable parallels in the discourse. “The case for ID cards is a case not about liberty, but about the modern world,” wrote Tony Blair in November 2006, as he was mobilising support for his Identity Cards Bill, 2004. “Aadhaar…is symbolic of the new and modern India,” said Manmohan Singh in September 2010, as he distributed the first Aadhaar number in Nandurbar. “What we are trying to do with identity cards is make use of the modern technology,” said Mr. Blair. “Aadhaar project would use today’s latest and modern technology,” said Dr. Singh. The similarities are endless. Mr. Blair’s celebrated push for identity cards ended in a political disaster for Labour. The British people […]

Aadhaar: on a platform of myths

Computing magazine reports: The Home Office has refused to back down in the face of a concerted campaign from Labour MPs to retain the DNA profiles of suspects, who are not subsequently convicted, on the DNA database. Junior Home Office minister James Brokenshire accused Labour MPs demanding continued retention of the records of being “very casual with people’s liberties”. He added: “They seem to assume that simply because someone is arrested for a crime, they are guilty. We take a different view.” He said it would remain possible for the police, in cases where an individual is arrested for a sexual offence such as rape, but not subsequently charged, to apply to a new biometrics commissioner for the retention of the DNA profile for three years. Brokenshire insisted: “The government’s approach is based on putting on the national DNA database more people who are guilty of crimes, rather than those […]

Home Office will not back down on DNA database

Helen Gibson writes in Progress magazine: One of the first coalition policies to be announced in 2010 was a plan to grant anonymity to men accused of committing rape. This had not been a policy in either the Tory of Liberal Democrat manifesto, and yet appeared to be cooked up by the cabal of eight white men who drew up the coalition agreement. Mercifully, with a lot of lobbying from women MPs and women’s organisations the plans were dropped. Women do not seem to be safe however, as, month after month, new proposals are introduced which threaten to turn back the clock on women’s rights, and even our safety, with alarming consequences. The latest announcement is that the government will force police to stop holding the DNA of those arrested for rape, but not charged. The naive presumption, one assumes, is that the government believes if you are not charged […]

U-turn again