[Dave Birch] I’ve been wondering why the IRIS biometric scheme is so bad. I’ve now given up on it completely: the last couple of times I’ve tried to used — when it’s actually been working — it hasn’t let me in. I don’t know why it’s stop recognising me, although I have a theory. What if it is something to do with the number of people enrolled? I was an early adopter of the scheme, and it’s always been pretty terrible. I’ve complained about it before bit always come back and given it another try. Well, no more. Whether the biometric, the system or the government procurement procedure failed, I’m not sure. But it’s not a very good advertisement for large-scale biometrics, just as the procurement for the national identity card in the U.K. is about to begin.

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I wonder — with no evidence whatsoever — if the problems are something to do with scale. I used the system successfully several times a few months ago when it was smaller. It seemed to be able to pick my iris out of the database reasonably quickly. But now that it has more than 100,000 users it hasn’t let me in the last couple of times I’ve tried. I wonder if the iris technology is up to the job: perhaps it doesn’t scale up particularly easily. Having given up for good, I resolved to try it again when I returned to the U.K. last Saturday. Needless to say, it was closed..

What is it about Britain that engenders these continual technology project failures? A while back, Chris Long from the BBC put forward the proposition that these things stem from the fact that politicians and top civil servants are ignorant about technology (and, I might add, so are many of the management consultants who advise them). They announce soundbite strategies (“we’re going to make a database of all the children in the U.K. to protect them from abuse”) and then dump the execution on to people lower down the chain. Left with the unenviable task of trying to implement these impossible projects, they produce predictable failures and budget overruns before the systems are eventually scrapped

All of which goes to say that the fact that IRIS seems to be shut most of them time and doesn’t work anyway when it’s open, does not necessarily mean that biometrics cannot work. What it might mean is that large-scale government identity management projects that involve iris biometrics may need to be reviewed in the light of the IRIS experiences.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

1 comment

  1. > What is it about Britain that engenders these continual technology project failures?
    I would say that that what you are talking about is government projects, and in that respect, to me, Britain seems no worse nor better than other governments and their projects.
    The reason why governments are so bad at IT projects is that (a) there is no tight feedback loop like there is with commerce, and (b) IT projects themselves are notoriously difficult to manage because every new one is almost a complete break from past experience. Unlike bridges, hospitals, pension schemes, battleships or other costly projects that governments like to do.

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