[Dave Birch] I’ve said before that the introduction of biometrics into the mass market is more about convenience than security, but it seems as if the current U.K. approach is more about inconvenience (not that that’s necessarily bad)…

Members of industry body UKinbound say they are continuing to report “severe” drops in demand from travel to Britain from China, India and Russia in particular due to the time and cost of travel to visa centres. Reporting a 2.5% decline in overseas arrivals in December, the organisation said long haul travel to the UK was worst affected, with the new method of visa data collection introduced from last October being of “particular concern”.

[From Biometric entry visas hitting tourism to UK-18 February, 2008]

Now, like any other stout English yeoman, I don’t really care about foreigners being inconvenienced, but I do care about U.K. plc, which is why the connection between the introduction of biometrics and the fall in visitors caught my eye. What’s worse, though, is that the government’s approach appears to be to inconvenience stout English yeoman as well. I’m not the only person that has noticed that the biometric iris-scanning system at U.K. airports doesn’t seem to work as well as might have been imagined when the plans were being forged in the white heat of new technology:

There were about 40 people waiting to show passports and three people in the iris queue. I was iris-enabled and my colleague was not, so we decided to see who got through faster. No contest – I had not even got into the iris machine before he was waiting on the other side. Iris recognition is a clever idea, but the execution is hopeless.

[From Heathrow iris-scan queues are slower – Times Online]

I lack commitment, so I gave up using the system after it refused to let me into the country (perhaps it can read blog feeds) and therefore I can’t say whether it’s got better or worse over the last few months, but my guess would be worse because the poor performance might well be related to the size of the database as well as poor implementation.

Note that I’m not saying that iris scanning is dumb or that the idea of biometric points-of-entry is wrong. In fact, people are doing very interesting things with iris…

A patent for technology which will digitally “watermark” the image with the details of the iris of the photographer has been filed by camera giant Canon.

[From BBC NEWS | Technology | Iris scans to protect your photos]

There are a great many biometric applications just around the corner. As the technology becomes cheaper and integrated into more devices, it will become familiar. Frankly, the synergy between biometrics (especially voice biometrics) and mobile phones is so great. Where that sort of thing has been tried, the public appear to like it…

As part of the trial, which was launched in May in Tennessee and Mississippi, cell phone users were able to access payment cards using their fingerprints. The goal of the trial is to raise awareness and adoption of mobile fingerprint touch control technology in m-commerce applications, meaning those that enable commerce on mobile devices, to make mobile payments less time consuming and more secure, according to Atrua. According to Cellular South, 87% of testers that participated in the trial are interested in using the mobile payment technology once it’s available for commercial use. Other testers found the technology convenient to use and an innovative method for making everyday payments and purchases.

[From Cossacks Breaking News » Companies Test Fingerprint Recognition For Mobile Payments]

I’m sure this is more about convenience than security, again. But just because fingerprints are involved, remember, it doesn’t automatically mean that everything is then perfectly secure. After all, you leave your fingerprints all over the place. There was a story in the news about this made me think about that at the time. What happened was that the police matched fingerprints found at a crime scene to a person on their fingerprint database. Then they arrested that person.

Lee Hicks, 33, said police burst into his home to arrest him after his fingerprints were found at the scene of a burglary committed seven months ago.

[From BBC NEWS | England | Gloucestershire | Locksmith is mistaken for burglar]

But the reason his fingerprints were at the crime scene was that he was locksmith who had been called by the property owner to change the locks at the burgled premises (it takes the police a while to arrive in the U.K.). One can imagine that in other circumstances, the outcome might have been tragic: suppose your fingerprint had been found at the scene of a terrorist outrage or a murder or something? Unless the fingerprint scanner in the mobile phone is pretty fancy, it will be easy to fool it and cause all sorts of mischief. When a court hears that your fingerprint was used to unlock a phone used to detonate a bomb / groom a child / smuggle illegal immigrants into the country, you might be in a spot of bother.

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]

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