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Pieces on the theory or practical use of biometric technology.


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John Lettice writes in the Register: Second-generation biometric passports will be scrapped alongside ID cards and the National Identity Register by the new Tory-LibDem government, probably as part of a merger between the LibDem Freedom Bill, and the Great Repeal Bill advocated by some sections of the Tory party. It isn’t as yet entirely clear what will be in this Bill, but there is sufficient common ground between the two parties for it to be one of the easier tasks for the new government. Both parties went into the election committed to scrapping ID cards and the NIR, and though the LibDems were the only major UK party to pledge to add biometric passport enhancements (adding fingerprints, and possibly other weird stuff if you believe Meg Hillier) to the bonfire, the UK has no international obligation to deliver a second-generation passport. They would have been a tempting and easy cut […]

Biometric passport 2.0 scrapped alongside ID cards, NIR


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Nick Clegg writes in Computer Weekly: High price of government snooping So new technology can help deliver fairness. But if we have learnt anything from Gordon Brown’s Labour government, it is that it can also be used to limit freedom. Britain has 1% of the world’s population, but 20% of its CCTV cameras. Every minute, some bureaucrat gets access to information about our personal communications, and now the government wants companies to store information about our internet and e-mail use too. Labour’s passion for intrusive technology has cost us billions. Huge IT commissioning disasters, which go over time and over budget, are a familiar story, like Connecting for Health and C-Nomis. The government’s attempt to hide the details of ongoing public sector IT disasters by shredding Gateway reviews was nothing short of scandalous. Full review of government IT procurement We will take a totally different approach. We will end the […]

LibDems would scrap ID cards, biometric passports and child database


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According to the Guardian’s leader-writer: David Cameron’s claim to radicalism, rehearsed in these pages yesterday, seems not to have convinced many Guardian readers. Less than a fifth of those who voted in our poll thought the Conservatives had really changed. But in one important respect there should be common ground. For all their bizarre equivocation over the Human Rights Act, in recent years the Tories have sometimes been on the right side in specific challenges to individual liberty. Among their battle honours has been their opposition to government plans to retain for up to six years the DNA of people arrested for minor offences, many of whom will be innocent. A loss of nerve, perhaps understandable, at the last minute on Wednesday let the government off the hook. But then Labour is playing very low politics with crime. Last month a peculiarly vicious video was put up on the party […]

DNA sampling: Political science



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Laura Clark writes in the Daily Mail: A school has provoked uproar after taking children’s fingerprints without permission from their parents. Pupils were ‘frogmarched’ to be fingerprinted so they could use touch screens in the canteen to have money deducted from their account, thereby speeding up lunch queues. Capital City Academy in Brent, north London, was later forced to apologise and wiped all prints it obtained before asking for consent. It also introduced an opt-out for parents uncomfortable with the technology, allowing pupils to enter a four-digit pin code instead of scanning their print. The revelation comes as teachers today warned schools are routinely taking children’s fingerprints without permission from their parents.

School apologises after pupils were ‘frogmarched’ to be fingerprinted so ...


James Slack writes in the Daily Mail: TV crime shows may have created the myth that DNA can solve almost every grisly crime – but the reality is very different. As few as one in every 1,300 crimes reported to the police is solved by the national DNA database, according to a report released by MPs yesterday. The research shows that – despite the massive expansion in the Government database – only 3,666 crimes are detected every year with links to an existing DNA profile. That is one in every 1,300 of the 4.9million crimes carried out, and just one in 350, or 0.3 per cent, of the 1.3million crimes solved by police, according to the home affairs select committee. The very low figures will come as a surprise to viewers of TV programmes such as Crimewatch, Waking the Dead and Cold Case, where DNA is often vital to cracking […]

How just 0.3% of solved crimes are due to DNA ...


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Peter Hoskin, writing in the Spectator Coffee House blog, comments on a speech by Gordon Brown: Paul Waugh has already blogged on what may turn out to be the most significant passage of Brown’s speech – at least so far as the cut ‘n’ thrust of the election campaign is concerned. In it, Brown highlights the case of Jeremiah Sheridan, who raped a woman some 19 years ago, but was caught last year thanks to DNA evidence retained after Sheridan was arrested – but not convicted – for an offence in 2005. Brown ends his story thus: “The next time you hear somebody question the value of retaining DNA profiles from those who have been arrested but not convicted, remember Jeremiah Sheridan. And most of all remember the innocent woman he attacked.” The heavy implication is that Sheridan would still be walking the streets if the Tories had their way […]

Brown goes crime-fighting



Jason Lewis writes in the Mail on Sunday: New concerns have been raised about the use of innocent people’s DNA in police investigations. Figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday show that detectives are ordering weekly searches of the DNA database for people with no immediate connection to any crime. The searches are used when crime scene DNA samples produce no direct match on the system. Investigators then trawl millions of other records looking for a partial match, which might indicate that the suspect is related to an innocent person on the system. The ‘familial DNA searches’ raise new questions about the increasing number of innocent people’s records being held on the DNA register. This is because a partial match could lead to police launching a background investigation and even a surveillance operation, targeting an innocent person while searching for a family member.

Detectives trawl DNA database 60 times a year – hunting ...


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Tom Whitehead writes in The Daily Telegraph: David Hanson, the policing minister, has been criticised for repeating a case study to MPs as part of a series of examples of why retention of DNA samples of innocent people helps solve crimes. Proposals in the Crime and Security Bill, currently going through parliament, would see the profiles of innocent people retained on the national DNA database for up to six years. Mr Hanson wrote to the MPs on the Bill’s parliamentary committee with a list of five examples of where someone had their DNA taken but was not charged and were later caught for far more serious offences because samples taken from the later crime matched them on the database. But it emerged two of the examples were the same case.

Blunder on DNA defence by Home Office


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Ian Dunt writes on the Politics.co.uk web site about the ACPO evidence on the DNA database to the Home Affairs committee: But Abbott’s points on statistics seemed to be vindicated when Acpo crept up to the witness chair. There are 4.9 million crimes in the UK every year, Sims informed MPs, 33,000 of which are solved solely or largely because of the database. Keith Vaz, chairman, desperately tried to figure out the percentage. An official found a calculator. It turns out just 0.67 per cent of crimes are solved by the database. Acpo didn’t like the way that sounded, and the witnesses desperately insisted the figure gave no proper indication of the usefulness of the database. Most crimes are relatively minor offences between people who know each other, Sims and his colleague informed MPs. But DNA evidence is most relevant in more serious crimes, where the people are unknown to […]

Sketch: The DNA database session



Henry Chu writes in the Los Angeles Times: For skeptics, the ID cards represent one more intrusion on their privacy, yet another government attempt to keep tabs on a citizenry that’s already among the most monitored on Earth, thanks to the countless cameras mounted in public places. As repositories of biometric data and potentially other kinds of personal information, national ID cards push Britain closer to being a “database state,” critics say. It might seem like just a big bother now, but it could easily turn into Big Brother later. Fierce opposition has already forced the ruling Labor Party to water down the ID plan since it was conceived several years ago. Once envisaged as mandatory, the cards are now being issued on a strictly voluntary basis for British citizens. They’re also being marketed as a convenient tool for consumers and travelers rather than as the powerful weapon against illegal […]

British ID card program meets resistance


Mary Wakefield writes in the Independent: The Human Genetics Commission has reported that police are routinely arresting people to collect DNA for their exciting new database – as if somehow the more hi-tech information they gather the less crime there’ll be. I suspect the opposite may be true. This week I had my first experience of security technology in action and it seemed to present criminals not with a problem but with terrific opportunities. I was at Gatwick, home from holiday, about to join the depressing EU queue when, as the holder of a sexy new biometric passport, I was ushered towards the chip machines. Hooray! Innovation! The usually dour immigration ladies were smiling proudly, letting their hands trail over the machines in the manner of car salesroom girls. Poor ladies. Their smiles soon faded. My chip refused to register, as did the chips of others near me. We pressed […]

Wikipedia doesn’t have all the answers


According to the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion column: Matthew Zarb-Cousin, a Labour candidate for Thorpe Bay in Southend, wrote recently on Labourlist.org that “a database, where swabs of DNA are taken at birth—and of people coming into the country—is not only fair but also vital…. the only logical objection I could possibly have to it is if I planned to commit a crime in the near future.” The unspoken assumption of Mr. Zarb-Cousin and other proponents of universal DNA collection is that this database will only be used for good, and that we can trust its keepers to neither misuse nor abuse it. This seems a bit like saying that politicians can be trusted to treat parliamentary expenses policies with the appropriate respect for taxpayer money—a proposition that these days looks shaky at best in the U.K. More serious still is the potential for abuse for political gain, on an […]

Innocent Until Sampled



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Sean O’Neill writes in The Times: The same voices that sow alarm over DNA also complain loudly about the spread of the “surveillance society”. They fret about the rising number of CCTV cameras, quoting the guesstimate of 4.2 million cameras as fact. And they stoke up fear over proposals to create a central log of mobile phone and e-mail traffic, something that law enforcement refers to as the intercept modernisation programme but which has become better known as the “Big Brother database”. These battles being fought (and won) under the banner of liberty and privacy threaten to have serious consequences in terms of the ability of the police to investigate serious crime. If we curtail the use of DNA, slash the number of CCTV cameras and abandon the collation of phone and e-mail records then we are asking detectives to try to catch the most dangerous criminals with one hand […]

Don’t take away the modern copper’s toolkit


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The Times leader writer comments on the Human Genetics Commission report on the National DNA database: There should be a clear and independent appeals procedure for unconvicted people who want their DNA removed. All police officers, those most likely to come into contact with suspects, should have their DNA collected as a condition of employment. And, to protect fragile civil liberties, all profiles of the innocent should be deleted immediately — even at the slight risk of hindering detection and clear-up rates.

Keeping a Low Profile


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The Daily Mail reports: A high-flying city lawyer was fired from her £150,000-a-year job after a ‘routine security check’ revealed her DNA was held on the national database – over a ‘false allegation’ made against her. Lorraine Elliott said that she felt ‘gobsmacked and depressed’ after bosses spotted her file during ‘background clearance’ checks as she was just about to start work on a new project. The mother-of-three today described her reputation as having been ‘tainted’ after she was dismissed from her post following the discovery of her DNA profile – despite never having been charged with an offence. And what did that new job involve? Ms Elliott was just about to take up working on the government’s own national identity card scheme which required the routine checks to be made before she was ‘cleared’ for the role.

Lawyer sacked from £150,000 job after DNA is wrongly put ...