11 November, 2003: Incompetence crisis

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David Blunkett on Today this morning: (emphasis mine)

John Humphrys: And I take it that what you're saying is that the government can move forward towards a solution that is the one you'd like to see, but you're not pretending the fight is over, are you?

David Blunkett: Well, I'm not into a fight. I mean, this... this isn't something I'm gaining political points for at this moment in time. I'm trying to address the issue of modernising, preparing Britain for the rest of this century and what is happening in Europe and North America in terms of the introduction -- not of cards, because the card is a means to an end -- but of the biometric identifiers that make the prevention of the theft of our identity and multiple identities impossible-- not, not nearly impossible but impossible; and it is the database, it is the biometric identifiers, that is the... that is one of the two crucial changes to the debate of the past. The second is the enormous world change, world movement of people and organised crime and terrorism that is materially different to ten years ago.

(A RealAudio copy of the interview is available.)

Charitably, we can assume that Blunkett meant that biometrics will make identity theft impossible (and not just nearly impossible), not `the prevention of [identity theft]', as he actually said. There is only one problem with this.

Sign reading `bull'

It is not true.

Never in the history of human endeavour has an unforgeable document been produced. Never in the history of IT has there been produced a perfectly secure database. Current biometric technologies are easy to spoof, with photographs of other people's irises, bits of cellophane with their fingerprints on, and any number of trivial attacks. More sophisticated technology might help a bit, but whatever technology is chosen for ID cards, they will remain in circulation for years. Does Blunkett seriously believe that the Home Office will, in its choice of technology, be able to outwit a decade or more's worth of future criminals?

Blunkett obviously doesn't have any expertise in this field -- which is fine, of course; our governmental system is supposed to promote generalists and give them expert advice to allow them to choose between policies which they may not be qualified to understand on their own. But who is feeding him this crap about biometrics? Where has he acquired this fantasy about unforgeable cards, unspoofable biometrics, and `impossible' identity theft? Why does he think they will prevent identity theft, when in fact they're likely to make it easier, and more damaging? What is going on?

(I wish someone would volunteer to do a good anti-ID-cards leaflet, per previous suggestion.)

Copyright (c) 2003 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.