The very premise of Aadhar is flawed.
The very premise of Aadhar is flawed.
Its a certification that those who claim to think on behalf of India or its underprivileged understand it so differently from the beneficiaries they think of.
In a nutshell, Aadhar will not bring about any of the benefits that are intended for its intended beneficiaries. Because that will be solving a problem of governance by adding another layer that is imaginary and unnecessary.
To call it "technological leadership" is as removed from reality as calling a reader a writer of the book. At best it will mean that we can take a technology and ram it down the throat of the poor while other nations with stronger democratic roots and respect for citizens have not been able to do so for reasons of building consensus.
"Aadhar" is like dropping a car by helicopter in a village where there is no road and hope every villager can reach wherever they may want to go.
For anyone willing to think, Aadhar is a reflection of the huge disconnect that India has from both the world of the under privileged and the rest of the world.
Please think through before supporting UID/ Aadhaar, so you do not regret your decision.
Emphasising the need for separation of powers, James Madison bluntly observed in his essay, Federalist 51. "Because men are not angels," they need government to prevent them, by force when necessary, from invading the lives, property, and liberty of their fellow citizens. He also noted that the same non-angelic men can wield the government’s coercive machinery to use it tyrannically—even in a democracy.
"I don't agree to Nandan Nilekeni and his madcap (UID) scheme which he is trying to promote," Senior BJP Leader Jaswant Singh, Sept 2012
Thursday, March 31, 2011
By 2015, the global biometrics market will be worth $11.2 billion, says research firm Markets and Markets (M&M). The catalyst for this revolutionary growth are governments strengthening national security in this digitised age, where multiple virtual identities are common. "Only governments can afford the kind of mega investment needed for pervasive biometric projects," says Olga Raskin, a senior consultant at the International Biometrics Group.
In Afghanistan's Helmand province, US marines are building a biometric database of opium farmers - to create identity cards for security purposes - by using handheld iris-scanners. Larger devices perform retina scans at Dubai airport, for brief transit visas. By next year, every single South African passport will be biometric. In the US, the FBI processes 160,000 to 200,000 fingerprint scans every day. "Developed biometrics are absolutely crucial to national security," says Kimberly Del Greco, chief of the biometric services section at the FBI.
The biggest biometric project of them all is India's mammoth unique identification number programme. India has issued 2 million Aadhaar cards, which are based on fingerprints and iris scans, it will issue 1 million cards every day from October.
A renowned biometrics pioneer, the FBI, has been using DNA in the form of genetic fingerprints since the 1980s to establish guilt or innocence in criminal investigations. A biometric database of about 70 million fingerprints allows the FBI to gauge in 10 minutes or less whether a person has a criminal record or not. The person could be entering or exiting the US, or applying for a school teacher's job.
"We can share biometrics with our international partners," says Del Greco. "It will give both them and the FBI additional search options, and help us curb crime faster." The need, then, is to have a large-scale, international, biometric database for our globalised, terror-plagued world.
"With biometrics, we're looking at a paradigm shift from the West to the East, driven primarily by the population," says Abhigyan Sengupta, senior research manager-semiconductors and electronics, M&M. Asia, Africa and the Middle East will emerge as biometric markets by 2013; some parts there already are. For instance, while most EU nations have had biometric passports for a while, the Middle East, which has drawn flak for terrorism-related activity, is investing heavily in them today.
Even the private sector is using biometric identification, primarily in areas like finance and banking, consumer electronics and healthcare. In Bronx, New York, iris-scans have helped a clinic reduce identification errors of its patients' medical records. In Japan, over 80,000 biometric ATMs use finger vein technology - a relatively rare and less intrusive biometric - for customer access instead of pin codes. These are used by 15 million customers. "Asia has a unique outlook on biometrics," says Raskin.
Accurate identification and reliable search are critical for further pushing the biometric revolution. "The future of biometrics really depends on people catching on. Biometric projects can fall apart if they don't use it," says Raskin. For instance, some years ago, laptops allowed you to log in with finger scans instead of passwords, but added to frustration when they did not work well. "Biometrics have a bit of a bad reputation," says Raskin. "People are averse due to the 'creep factor', as well as privacy and cultural issues. And while people can opt out as consumers, with government bodies, it's not a matter of choice."
“We will generate about a million numbers per day and our plan is to have nearly half the population in our system (unique identity number) by 2014,” Nandan Nilekani, chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), said.
He was addressing the seventh India-Africa business conclave co-hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Exim Bank, in cooperation with the ministries of external affairs and commerce, which began here Sunday.
The UDAI project involves providing a unique number to all Indians, but not smart cards. Through this number, the authority will provide a biometric database of all residents.
The representattives of various African governments attending the confernece showed interest in the UID system for possible application in their own countries.
Some 800 delegates from around 35 African countries are participating in the conclave, which is a build-up to the India-Africa Summit to be held in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in May.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be attending the Ethiopian summit.
According to a CII official, heads of states, senior ministers, officials and business leaders are expected to take part in this year’s conclave.
The theme of the conference this year is “Creating Possibilities; Delivering Values.”
In the last six conclaves 1,084 projects worth $56.08 billion were discussed.
The Delhi conclave and the Addis Ababa summit in May come at a time when trade between India and African countries has been recording a steady increase, reaching over 400 percent since 2005.
According to the organisers, around 157 projects worth $10.02 billion were discussed in over 1,200 one-to-one business meetings during last year’s conference.
African Union Commission chair Jean Ping, Mozambique Prime Minister Aires Bonifacio Ali, Central African Republic Prime Minister Faustin Archange Touadera, Togo Prime Minister Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo and Somalia Deputy Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali are among the political leaders taking part in the event.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
March 26, 2011:
After considerable debate on its usefulness and security issues, the unique identity number or UID project (Aadhaar) has gotten a move on with pilot projects done in several places in the country with the millionth unique number being given away.
Here we try to highlight the purported advantages of acquiring a UID, such as serving as a key customer authentication data source of accessing financial services including bank accounts, mutual funds, other services such as mobile connections, gas connections and the like.
These apart, the larger benefits for investors and potentially large business opportunity for the IT industry is looked into before looking at some of the key concerns.
THE NUMBER GAME
It is important to note that the UID authorities (UIDAI) do not issue a card. What is given is a unique 12 digit number to people who choose to enrol.
UID is not mandatory and is voluntary in nature. Only if you want the number, which can be used for specific purposes, you can choose to enrol once the UIDAI authorities announce their launch in your neighbourhood.
There is a large registrar network that the UIDAI works with who help in enrolment. All you need to do is to take a photograph, fill up a simple application form asking for basic details and address and submit simple supporting documents. After this all your fingers are biometrically scanned (all ten of them), as is your iris. With your data, together with the scans, you are identified. Once this is done , you can check the UIDAI website for the status of your application. Within a month, you will be given the 12-digit unique identity number. The registrars for enrolment thus far have been public sector banks and other governmental institutions.
We often face the inconvenience of of having to submit photocopies of several documents for authentication purposes .
For instance, as a part of the KYC (Know Your Customer) norms, banks or fund houses ask you to produce documentation when you want to open an account, or invest in a mutual fund scheme. Mobile phone operators ask you for multiple proofs for authentication as do the passport authorities.
As the UID database will already have most of the information when you enroll for the number, these agencies may use your number as a one-stop source for authentication, after it gains wider acceptance.
And if you change jobs and move to another city, opening a bank account, getting a mobile or a gas cylinder connection would get that much more easier as your UID will do the job of authentication. These institutions too benefit by having to spend substantially less for verification purposes.
Of course with the number of enrolments increasing , the scope of services for which the UID database can be accessed for authentication could be expanded substantially.
Apart from the individual benefits, IT companies too are vying for business opportunities from this mission. With a whole host of computer systems, servers, scanners and other electronic hardware required for achieving the targeted database of 600 million numbers within the next five years, the pie is pretty large. A CLSA report has estimated a $20 billion opportunity for companies in the first five years and $10 billion annually from the sixth.
With huge amounts of data collection at hand, comes a concern for security and potential misuse. The UIDAI has indicated that for all authentication purposes, only a ‘Yes' or ‘No' response can be had from the centralised database. For example, if a bank wants to verify the details in your application form, it will get the above mentioned answers for each field of information.
Access to information is highly restricted and encrypted. The chances of duplication are very minimal according to the UIDAI.
If it manages to convince a larger chunk of the population and its broad-based use, enrolling for a unique number may well be worth it.
R&D organisation takes up study to enable the conversion.
Your unique identity number (UID) may soon double up as your computer’s Internet Protocol (IP) address — a numerical label assigned to a device participating in a computer network.
Faced with the challenge, Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), a research and development organisation for the telecom sector, has taken up a study to convert the UID number to your IP address. According to sources within the organisation, C-DOT is exploring the possibility of using the 16-digit UID number as the IP address.
C-DOT is also working on a project to replace your mobile phone number with the UID number.
An IP address serves two principal functions — identifies the network and location. IP addresses consist of four sets of numbers from 0 to 255 which are separated by three dots.
The Internet Engineering Task Force , which develops and promotes Internet Standards, is exploring new technologies to expand the Internet's addressing capability because the remaining five blocks of the IPv4 was distributed in February this year and is expected to be exhausted by the year-end.
To address the problem, they have come up with the next generation internet protocol called Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), which intends to replace IPv4. Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is in charge of all “unique parameters” on the Internet, including IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.
The UID project was initially conceived by the Planning Commission as an initiative to provide identification for each Indian citizen. So far two million UID numbers have been issued. According to a company official, C-DOT has already made a presentation to the Telecom Regulator Authority of India (Trai) on the use of UID as one’s mobile phone number.
With over 15 million subscribers being added every month, the telecom department is also faced with similar challenges with mobile phone numbers.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Moneylife Digital Team
According to test results of UIDAI’s biometrics-based Aadhaar project, there could be up to 15,000 false positives for every Indian resident. Moreover, this figure is just for identification and not for verification
The Indian government and its de-facto tagging institution, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), have not only ignored privacy concerns but also ignored sample test results of its pilot project. Both the government and UIDAI have been in such a hurry that they have neglected the basic principle of pilot testing and size of sample. For over 1.2 billion UID numbers, they have used data from just 20,000 people, in pairs, as the sample and have on the basis of the results gone ahead with the UID number through the 'Aadhaar' project.
UIDAI conducted a proof of the concept trial of the Aadhaar project between March and June 2010. In the results, it said, "The matching analysis was done on two sets of 20,000 biometrics, for a total of 40,000. However, the number of comparisons was several orders of magnitude more than 40,000, since each set of fingerprints would be matched against every other set of fingerprints in the data set".
On the false positive identification rate (FPIR), the authority said, "We will look at the point where the FPIR (i.e. the possibility that a person is mistaken to be a different person) is 0.0025%". This means, for every 1 lakh comparisons, there would be two and a half false positives. On a large scale, it means for a population of over 120 crore, there would be 18 lakh crore false positives, or, for every single Indian resident there would be 15,000 false positives! (Click to see the calculations)
David Moss, who spent eight years campaigning against the UK's National ID (NID) card scheme, has questioned the logic of the UIDAI and the government to depending on biometrics to produce the UID number. In a report titled, "India's ID card scheme-drowning in a sea of false positives", Mr Moss said, "those (the FPIR) conclusions do not follow from the evidence reported. Nothing in UIDAI's surprisingly low quality report suggests that it would be feasible to prove that each electronic identity on the Central ID Repository (CIDR) is unique. Not with a billion plus people on the database. Far from it, India can be confident, from the figures quoted in UIDAI's proof of concept trial report, that de-duplication could never be achieved."
Speaking about the UK's NID scheme, Mr Moss said, "There were many problems with the UK scheme. Not just biometrics. But biometrics is the easiest problem to understand and to discuss objectively and on which to reach an agreed decision, as it's quantifiable, there are no difficult value judgements to make and it's just technology. But it's not a very good technology, for, whenever there is a large-scale field trial, mass consumer biometrics prove to be too unreliable for the ID card schemes that depend on them, as opposed to the mere computer modelling exercises favoured by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)."
In addition, there are issues like the reliability of biometric identification for a large population like in India. For the record, no one has ever issued IDs to such a huge population anywhere in the world. And whoever has tried to issue biometrics-based Ids, even for a small size, had to abandon or discard the idea altogether. Like the UK government abolished its NID scheme citing higher costs, impracticality and ungovernable breaches of privacy as reasons for cancelling the NID project.
The UK government spent around £250 million on developing the national ID programme over eight years. However, its abolition means that the government will avoid spending another £800 million over a decade. The NID was launched in July 2002 and as of February 2010, its total costs rose to an estimated £4.5 billion.
For the biometrics-based ID cards, there was one study done at Seoul in Korea. The study was done for ID cards issued for driver licences. It was designed in such a way that by swiping fingers, the drivers were able to access services like paying parking charges and redeeming a ticket. However, after one year, it was found that 5% to 13% users could not use the system. The tests were conducted with four different manufacturers, with drivers being white collar workers and housewives in acceptable quality criteria. In the end the study recommended frequent re-enrolment of users.
According to JT D'Souza, who analysed the pilot study conducted by the UIDAI, given the well-known lacunae in our infrastructure and massive demographics, biometrics as an ID will be a guaranteed failure and result in denial of service. He said, "The sum of false acceptance rate and false rejection rate (EER) reveals only part of the problem, which is rejection or acceptance within a short duration of enrolment. The bigger problem is ageing, including health and environment factors, which causes sufficient change to make biometrics completely unusable and requires very frequent re-enrolment."
The International Biometric Group (IBG) testing also shows that performance can vary drastically within technologies-some fingerprint solutions, for example, had next to no errors during testing, while others rejected nearly 1/3rd of enrolled users. "Most interestingly, the testing shows that over time, many biometric systems are prone to incorrectly rejecting a substantial percentage of users. Verifying a user immediately after enrolment is not highly challenging to biometric systems. However, after six weeks, testing shows that some systems' error rates increase ten-fold," according to the research, consulting and integration firm, which works closely with the biometric industry. The report is titled "Real-World Performance Testing".
Despite all the issues, the UIDAI and the Indian government are pressing hard to implement the UID number scheme across the country. While maintaining that the UID number is not compulsory, both of them are making efforts to make it mandatory using backdoor methods. Nobody is even ready to pause and think about the possible consequences of the failure to identify some poor person from a remote place. It may be a technical glitch for the authorities, but could be a question of life and death for the 'aam admi', who would be denied food and other benefits due to the failure.
"By the time the stillborn (NID) scheme was finally cancelled, the UK's Home Office had lost all credibility, it was totally demoralised and it is now excluded from discussions of the new, and still unspecified, Digital Delivery Identity Assurance project. Having given their unsolicited testimonials to the biometrics industry and its unreliable products, UIDAI will be left to clean up the expensive mess left in India as best they can when 'Aadhaar' is cancelled, while the biometrics industry road-show moves on to the next country and repeats the trick," Mr Moss concluded.
Monday, March 21, 2011
“The Committee would thus urge the government to thrash out all the issues relating to poverty criteria, estimation, identification and targetting before finalising the Food Security Bill,” said the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, underlining that it was “concerned about the efficacy of the proposed Food Security Bill when the criteria of identification of the poor remains nebulous”.
The Committee headed by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha lamented “divergence in approach” between different government organs and suggested that the proposed BPL survey later this year be undertaken through a joint mechanism comprising of Planning Commission, Ministries of Rural Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, NSSO and Registrar General of India and UIDAI among others.
The committee also asked the government to examine the “direct cash-transfer scheme” as tried in Brazil and other similar experiments in countries dealing with large population of poor to come out with a mechanism aimed at “ensuring that every rupee reaches the person it is meant for”.
“The Committee would like to emphasise that direct cash transfers to bank accounts of beneficiaries will also facilitate the process of ‘financial inclusion’ being attempted by the banking sector. Such a scheme may also be integrated with the Aadhar project of the Unique Identification programme to be implemented on a national scale, which will go a long way in plugging the rampant leakages in the dissemination of benefits to the poor,” said the Committee.
27 February, 2011
In 2003, an ACLU report warned that "Big Brother" no longer is fiction, America having advanced to where total surveillance is now possible. Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program said:
"Given the capabilities of today's technology, the only thing protecting us from a full-fledged surveillance society are the legal and political institutions we have inherited as Americans. Unfortunately, the September 11 attacks have led some to embrace the fallacy that weakening the Constitution will strengthen America."
As a result, civil liberties fast eroded. In 2007, another ACLU report warned about America being six minutes to midnight "as a surveillance society draws near...." Powerful new technologies potentially make total monitoring possible under a president, a compliant Congress and courts that believe national security takes precedence over constitutional freedoms.
As a result, "we confront the possibility of a dark future where our every move," transaction, and communication is "recorded, compiled, and stored away" for ready access for whatever authorities may want.
One of several earlier articles on institutionalized spying can be accessed through the following link:
It reviewed undiscussed police state tools used without congressional authorization, oversight, or legal standing - state-of-the-art technology, including satellite imagery, to spy on unsuspecting Americans.
In his article titled, "Creating the Domestic Surveillance State," Alfred McCoy explained that Obama embraced the same executive powers as Bush, including NSA surveillance, CIA renditions, drone assassinations, indefinite military detentions, and more - virtual lawlessness across the board. As a result, constitutional Law Professor Jack Balkin believes bipartisan affirmation of unchecked executive powers could "reverberate for generations," subverting constitutional freedoms.
As concerned, McCoy said Americans are largely unaware of the "war on terror" toll on their rights. "Think of our counterinsurgency wars abroad as so many living laboratories for the undermining of a democratic society at home, a process historians (say) has been going on for a long, long time."
In his book titled, "Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State," McCoy chronicled over a century of US imperialism from the 1899 - 1902 Philippines conquest to the present.
As a result, America developed a coercive policing, intelligence, and surveillance apparatus to ensure absolute imperial domination, using covert infiltration and violence to curb all remnants of resistance.
Repressive tactics now include a state-of-the-art coercive national security/surveillance/counterintelligence apparatus. Established in the Philippines, it was used:
-- during the 1920s Red Scare;
-- for mass WW II incarceration of Japanese Americans;
-- during post-war McCarthy witch-hunts and secret blacklisting of suspected communists; and
-- for many decades against human rights, labor, anti-war and civil liberties activists.
Other techniques include:
-- psychological warfare;
-- targeted or sweeping assassinations;
-- death squads killing thousands from Korea to Southeast Asia, Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, and dozens of other countries covertly and overtly on the ground and overhead by drones and attack aircraft;
-- FBI subversion from red-baiting to COINTELPRO to later tactics to disrupt, sabotage and neutralize dissent by surveillance, political repression, infiltration, disinformation, assassinations, and denigration of targeted individuals or groups; and
-- sophisticated forms of intelligence, subversion and violence throughout the Cold War and thereafter, especially post-9/11 in the war on terror.
McCoy's book exposed imperial America's dark side, a shadowy public/private world of repressive policing, sophisticated surveillance, active informers, counterintelligence, secret agents, and state terror, undermining human rights, civil liberties, and democratic freedoms at home and abroad. It proved Mark Twain right saying you can't have an overseas empire and democracy at home.
From 1898, America developed an invasive internal security blueprint, more sophisticated than ever today. Today's global war on terror developed a "technological template, (including) omnipresent cameras, deep data-mining, nono-second biometric identification," global drone patrols, killer drones, satellite surveillance, and other forms of sophisticated lawless spying, intelligence, subversion, disruption, and destruction of constitutional freedoms.
McCoy said America's war on terror involves a "massive expansion of (FBI, NSA, Pentagon, and CIA) data-mining systems, (amassing billions of) private documents (on) US citizens" kept in classified data banks.
"Abroad, after years of failing counterinsurgency efforts in the Middle East, the Pentagon began applying biometrics - the science of identification via facial shape, fingerprints, and retinal or iris patterns - to the pacification of Iraqi cities, as well as....electronic intercepts for instant intelligence and split-second" satellite imagery use to aid drone assassinations from Africa to South Asia to perhaps America after a future homeland attack.
Today, the combination of biometric identification, global surveillance, and digital warfare makes counterinsurgency more sophisticated than ever. With everyone in a database, authorities can get instantaneous feedback from iris, retinal, or other data to identify, target, arrest or kill.
In Iraq under General Stanley McChrystal, "every tool available....from signal intercepts to human intelligence (was employed for) lightening quick strikes." The same technology is used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, dozens of other countries, and perhaps soon, if not already, in communities across America.
"While those running US combat operations overseas were experimenting with intercepts, satellites, drones, and biometrics, inside Washington....FBI and NSA (operatives) began expanding domestic surveillance through thoroughly conventional data sweeps, legal and extra-legal, and - with White House help - several abortive attempts to revive a tradition that dates back to World War I of citizens spying on suspected subversives."
In 2002, Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) was launched to have "millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees and others" snitch on other Americans.
At the same time, the Pentagon developed a Total Information Awareness program with "detailed electronic dossiers" on millions of unsuspecting Americans. Public outrage got Congress to ban it, but the NSA, CIA and FBI continued it, monitoring Americans electronically, including private email and phone communications as well as access to financial, medical and other personal information.
In 2004, the FBI established an Investigative Data Warehouse "centralized (counterterrorism) repository," and in two years amassed 659 million individual records, now perhaps double that amount. It includes social security data, drivers' licenses, financial records, and virtually any information considered important to monitor - potentially making everyone's private life an open book to know about and abuse, including by warrantless wiretaps and other lawless methods.
Since taking office, Obama advanced the Bush agenda, endangering Americans more than ever under surveillance. For example, the FBI's "Terrorist Watchlist" adds 1,600 names daily to hundreds of thousands already included. A new Lackland Air Base cyber-command is charged with targeting enemy computers and repelling hostile cyber-attacks against US networks. Official denials notwithstanding, no one escapes surveillance.
The combined intelligence/Homeland Security/US Northern Command (NORTHCOM)/local authorities apparatus constitutes a formidable force against civil unrest, mass protests, designated terrorists, dissidents, and other perceived homeland threats - their combined might and sophisticated technology charged with containing them. Already, constitutional freedoms have been seriously compromised on their way toward total abolition.
Moreover, "presidential power has grown relentlessly" after Bush claimed "unitary Executive" authority, what Chalmers Johnson called a "ball-faced assertion of presidential supremacy dressed up in legal mumbo jumbo," but it persists under Obama to rule by Executive Orders and other unilateral directives, unchecked by congressional approval.
McCoy said it "open(ed) the way to unchecked electronic (satellite, drone, biometric, and other type) surveillance, the endless detention of (uncharged) terror suspects (including US citizens), and a variety of inhumane forms of interrogation" after Bush made torture official US policy. It continues seamlessly, though quietly, under Obama more than ever hardening America's police state apparatus.
Big Brother now watches everyone, including with growing numbers of digital cameras monitoring streets, commercial areas, airports, highways, public and private transportation, government and office buildings, and shopping malls - virtually everywhere people congregate, work, reside, recreate, or inhabit for any reason. Anti-terrorist SWAT teams are ready to react against any suspected provocation or threat.
As a result, American democracy fundamentally changed. Always more illusion than reality, total surveillance reveals a harshness too ugly to hide, especially when sophisticated technologies target anyone for any reason, what McCoy calls "the stuff of dystopian science fiction."
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Bihar should avoid the folly of just looking and sounding good
And I’d like to address in this column the wisdom of big-ticket policy announcements, made in a self-congratulatory tone and offered as panacea, without taking into account the experience of other countries where these methods may have been tried out—with ambivalent results. I will confine myself to examples from Bihar. But extrapolations can be drawn from them on how policy announcements by the State can be blind to practical considerations. Also, as in the Monsanto affair, how such announcements set into motion forces that tend to throw caution to the wind, especially when they are driven by the profit motive.
In the glow of the 2010 assembly election victory, Nitish has been making policy pronouncements as if they are great innovations. Many of these schemes have behind them national and international debate and experience to learn from. We are not sure if the pros and cons have been thought through before implementation in Bihar.
Take the Bihar government’s preference for direct cash transfers for social welfare and poverty reduction over public delivery of services and subsidiaries. Some policy pundits are full of praise for direct cash transfers. Offered as proof is Bihar’s direct transfer of cash to schoolgirls for buying bicycles, and the political dividends it has brought the ruling coalition. But, as Jayati Ghosh of JNU has observed in an article tracing the international history of the idea and its implementation, cash transfers prove effective in the long run only if they do not replace the public provision of goods and services and instead supplement it.
Brazil’s ‘Bolsa Familia’, a grant provided to families with less than a threshold monthly income on condition of attendance at government clinics and 85 per cent school attendance, succeeds in delivering healthcare and schooling only because there is a functioning public health and school system around. In Bihar’s case, this would mean that the newly bought bicycles would only bolster female education if the government provides quality schools and teachers within cycling distance. We know the ground realities in the state in this regard are still far from satisfactory.
A similar development is the signing of an MoU with the UID Authority of India for implementing the project in Bihar. The preamble says, the document has been signed because “the state government would like to enhance efficiency in the delivery of government benefits and services through accurate identification of beneficiaries”. It says the government wants “uniform standards and processes for verification and identification of beneficiaries”. As many economists and activists have pointed out, UID would identify beneficiaries only after they have been selected, but corruption corrodes the selection process, leading to grave errors of exclusion of the deserving and inclusion of the undeserving. UID itself won’t make poverty alleviation more successful. More importantly, the debate about UID’s implications for the privacy and civil liberties of citizens has not yet been settled as Bihar hastens to sign up.
The Right to Service Bill mooted by the Bihar government, fixing the responsibility of government functionaries for delivery of specific services and setting deadlines, has been welcomed by many. But most of the services stipulated, like delivery of electricity bills, providing various licences and such, largely benefit the middle class. They do not address the entitlements of the poor and the delivery of essential goods, public services and civic amenities for them. It’s time for the state to move on from the idea of ‘Bihar Shining’, which appeals largely to the middle class, to a more hard-headed battle against backwardness.
By Yogini C Joglekar | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Though the UIDAI website says that getting enrolled for Aadhaar is not mandatory, it is likely to become a substitute for other identity proofs like PAN card and driving license.
Any resident in India who satisfies the UIDAI verification process can get an Aadhaar. Besides the unique identity, UID will also help identify criminals.
Aadhaar will include everyone, including infants. Biometric and demographic information is collected from the beginning of the programme to prevent duplication.
This project, headed by Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of Infosys, is expected to act as a stimulant to the economy by generating employment in general and project opportunities for IT companies.
Aadhaar is expected to be recognised and accepted across the country among all service providers. Once a person is enrolled for Aadhaar, service providers will not repeatedly ask that person for know-your-customer (KYC).
While applying for a bank account, passport, driving license or booking e-tickets, UID card holders will not be required to submit other documents for identity proof.
Aadhaar will help the poor and underprivileged sections to access banking services and give them the opportunity to avail of other services provided by the government and private sector.
It will be the first form of identification that many from this section will possess.
The UIDAI will ensure that its know-your-resident (KYR) standards do not become a barrier for enrolling the poor and has accordingly developed an introducer system for residents who do not have identity proof documents.
Through this system, authorised individuals (introducers), who already have an Aadhaar, can introduce residents who do not have any identification documents, thus enabling them to receive their Aadhaar.
UID will also enable service providers to easily verify an individual’s identity and authenticate it online. This will help them eliminate duplication and fake identities.
The project is likely to give a boost to financial inclusion and benefit those who do not have access to a formal credit system due to lack of acceptable documents.
The UID registration began in Thane district on January 10, 2011. “Registration will be open for almost a year. For every person, it takes about 10-15 minutes to complete the registration process. In a day, the registration centres manage to enrol close to 60 persons,” said a source, in-charge of promoting UID for his ward.
An application for Aadhaar can be rejected if there is a data or process error. In this case, one has to re-enrol for it. If a person’s biometric records match an existing record, then he/she will have to register a complaint.
March 14, 2011 10:07 IST
Officials in the food ministry, with which the group coordinated to prepare its report, said cash subsidy for below poverty line people at a later stage could also be part of the group's recommendations.
The government has already appointed a task force under Nandan Nilekani to look into direct cash subsidy to the poor for fertilisers, LPG and kerosene.
The system is expected to be in place by March 2012, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee [ Images ] had said in his Budget speech.
The working groups - one each on agriculture, food and public distribution and consumer affairs - were constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [ Images ] in April 2010 after a meeting with state chief ministers on rising food prices.
The group on agriculture is chaired by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, while that on consumer affairs chaired by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi [ Images ]. The third group is chaired by Ahluwalia.
The two groups headed by Hooda and Modi have already given their reports to the government.
Officials said the group headed by Ahluwalia was expected to forcefully advocate nationwide adoption of a computerised system of tracking transportation and distribution of PDS items.
"We already have a precedent in Chhattisgarh, which has developed a unique model of tracking PDS items and can be replicated by other states as well," a key official said. Measures to plug leakages in the PDS system could also be considered, he added.
At present, various studies show 30 to 40 per cent of the foodgrain allocated for distribution through the PDS never reaches the targeted population.
The terms of reference of the group chaired by Ahluwalia include making plans for augmenting warehouses and storage capacity, streamlining and strengthening the targeted public distribution system, etc.
It is also mandated to look into web-enabled computerisation of PDS system, including that for Food Corporation of India [ Images ] godowns and enhancing the storage capacity.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Date: Fri, 18 Mar 2011 13:02:32 +0530
Subject: A talk with Dr.Ian Brown: Trust, Biometrics, and Privacy
CIS invites you to a talk: "Trust, Biometrics, and Privacy", by Dr. Ian Brown on March 21st. Ian Brown is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. His research is focused on public policy issues around information and the Internet, particulary privacy and copyright. He also works in the more technical fields of communications security and healthcare informatics. The event will take place from 4pm-6pm at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
We look forward to your participation,
Policy and Advocacy Associate
Centre for Internet and Society
#194, 2nd ‘C’ Cross,
Domlur 2nd Stage
Bangalore – 560 071 Karnataka, India
Friday, March 18, 2011
By Farzana Versey
17 March, 2011
Who is really exploiting the reservation policy? If this is the constant fear, then there is more going on than we know. If politicians back certain groups for electoral ends, then those groups are not to be blamed. It was indeed shocking to read the Times of India editorial pick on the Gujjar and Jat communities that have demanded reservations and pass a blanket verdict: “Today, reservation has ended up creating ‘creamy layers’ in targeted sections. The Supreme Court’s 50% ceiling on quota has been breached as well, as in Tamil Nadu. Quotas were meant to facilitate upward mobility in terms of jobs, livelihoods or status.”
What about sectors where the real 50 per cent are not considered? This has not happened because of more reservations, but due to the nature of nepotism and promoting one’s own, and it starts at the lowest level of bureaucracy to the highest power centres. On what grounds can it be stated that quotas are about upward mobility when public visibility ensures that they are recognised as the downtrodden? How many top positions have been filled with this reservation policy? How many candidates standing for elections are given this opportunity, unless it is to woo the constituency, and this is done by all sections – the Brahmins, the Rajputs, the Muslims, the Christians in their respective majority areas?
The editorial goes on to say that “six decades ago, it was thought that ostracised and marginalised groups needed reservation only as a time-bound instrument of socio-economic levelling. India has come a long way since then”. If that were the case then there would be no need for other groups to downplay their status, not in a country where recognised as heirs and designated with labels is so very important. There was much media attention paid to an over-the-top wedding of the children of two Gujjar politicians in Haryana. It does not reveal prosperity of the community as a whole, although it does make the upper castes uncomfortable to see their ostentation mimicked. It therefore acts as a convenient stick to beat the issue with: “Clearly, if we’re to have reservation, it must be based on the economic criterion. More important, quota-based positive discrimination must make way for affirmative action in the form of efficient services delivery to the poor across the social board.”
While economically-backward people from all communities must benefit in terms of opportunity, how will such action be carried out? In the unorganised sector where daily wage is the mode of earning, there is no talk of reservation. Those are among the poorest people irrespective of their caste. Where has this great economic leap reached them? The definition of welfare does not have to be relegated only to paper.
It is pathetic to see the media playing the role of government spokespersons. The UPA gets a pat on the back for its food, health and “need” based schemes: “Whereas quotas create social friction by building coddled niches, welfare-for-all has unifying potential, and hence can help bridge caste divides. The midday meal scheme in schools – encouraging community eating at a young age – is a case in point.”
Why is there always a problem regarding coddled niches where the SC/ST groups are concerned and not when the fat cats are? How does school children sitting and eating together result in a feeling of community? How many schools do not discriminate in matters of admission and, more importantly, attitude? What mid-day meal schemes are there in the rural areas?
These are camouflages that only serve those in power and probably let the middle-men make some money on the food-packets. Also, eating in a Dalit house does not unify anyone when we know who is eating where.
The worst part of the debate is regarding “fasttracked” development. This will work at the level of lining the roads with potted plants when a foreign dignitary visits. There is a rather vile motive and that is to promote the government’s UID scheme. “The underprivileged have a sense of powerlessness and low self-esteem precisely because they’ve been treated as a faceless collective to be swayed by political populism, rather than as individual citizens with distinct identities and entitlements. Here’s where UID and financial inclusion come in. By giving the poor identity, financial agency and provable claim to social benefits, such projects can do more good than quotas ever could.”
Okay, so now that they have a face and a card, instead of a broom trailing behind them to clear the path for the others, will they get equal benefits? Or will their identity, stamped and marked, exclude them from certain areas while keeping up the pretence of welfare in others? Won’t their recognised identities help even small politicians trace them and use them for populist reasons, all at the click of a button? Is it not possible that were the younger lot to progress on their own and seek positions they will be tracked and prevented because those wonderful opportunities have been reserved for years for the privileged? Will not such a government-sanctioned identity, where everything from their source of food to their birth control methods are on record, not in fact work as a process of elimination quietly in the background?
Do not expect the UID (Unique Identity) scheme to track absconders and the corrupt. It will see to it that the backward remain where they are with a mid-day meal and an occasional trip to the local Disneyland ensured. India’s economic policy is a showcase, not an internal buffering system. It is about Forbes not welfare.
In this fairytale version of progress, one of the sops that has been thrown in is to give a well-settled institution like the Jamia Millia Islamia minority status. One might well ask where all the talk of welfare is now. In an article Najeeb Jung, the vice-chancellor, mentions that when it became a central university in 1988 with all the relevant faculties working, it had about 50 per cent Muslim students. In 2011, it has the same number. Unfortunately, he sees the positive aspects in what is clearly negative demarcation. “First, over the last 90 years Muslims have had a sense of ownership and a fierce attachment with Jamia. They believe it is an institution of higher learning set up by their forefathers, to further in essence the cause of Muslim education, and declaring it a minority institution makes them secure in this feeling. Two, with the introduction of reservations for OBCs, the level of reservations in the university would go beyond 50% and therefore over time Muslim numbers will decline.”
Jamia is seen as a secular institution and promoting it as a minority one defeats the purpose. Citing the example of Christian-run colleges does not quite work because most of them have a missionary background and yet a ‘convent’ education is considered prized. The Christian community did not feel any ownership and having studied in such institutes one can say that except for the occasional superficial religious dimension, it was the elite students who felt more of a sense of belonging irrespective of their caste or religion. What the government has done is to make Jamia work as a double OBC unit, in a way.
On the subject of women’s education, Jung writes, “Today, one of the glorious achievements of the university is that within its campus one frequently sees groups where girls in hijab mix easily with all others.” He is playing into a stereotype. Delhi has Muslim students in other universities who go without the hijab. Why does he assume that Muslims do not mix otherwise? The criticism that this could well be a ghetto, as much as is the UID scheme, is valid. And it is proved when he declares, “While this is a huge affirmative action on the part of the government that the Muslim community must accept with grace and gratitude, I believe the government has put an onus on the Muslims to prove that they can look beyond common perceptions of ghettoisation, fundamentalism and so on and understand that imbedded in this initiative is the challenge to be tested at the altar of competence, professionalism and, above all, commitment to fierce nationalism and secularism that has been the bedrock of Jamia for the past 90 years.”
Technically, the Jamia is anyway entitled to 50 per cent quota for Muslims, so giving it the minority tag is a trap and it is easy to fall into it. Why should there be an onus on one community to prove not only its capability to be professionally qualified but committed to fierce nationalism, which incidentally is at the core of contemporary disparities and communalism?
The devious double dhamaka of minority certified as minority is to push a group into the corner. It is not surprising that an established institution has been chosen for this ‘honour’. It will be used as an example to throw more crumbs at lesser people, be they minorities or the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, all in the name of welfare and unification. The fact is their every footprint is being marked to make certain that they can only walk thus far and no further.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
By David Moss • Get more from this author
Posted in Government, 14th August 2009 12:11 GMT
Special report Until the 16th century, educated opinion, as codified by Ptolemy, held that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. Then along came Copernicus.
On 29 June 2009, the Identity & Passport Service (IPS) published their latest paper on the National Identity Service (NIS). According to Safeguarding Identity (pdf), "the vision for the NIS is that it will become an essential part of everyday life, underpinning interactions and transactions between individuals, public services and businesses and supporting people to protect their identity" (para.3.32).
How is the NIS supposed to achieve IPS's vainglorious objective? “Our intention is that, at the core of the information used to prove identity will be biometrics, such as photographs and fingerprints” (para.3.6).
It follows that, in the eyes of IPS, the NIS stands or falls on the reliability of the biometrics chosen. If they don’t work, the NIS can’t work.
When he was Home Secretary, David Blunkett told us that biometrics "will make identity theft and multiple identity impossible. Not nearly impossible. Impossible". That is the commonly held view.
It may be the commonly held view, but is it correct?
Ask the Home Office's scientists
Not everyone agrees. Dr Tony Mansfield and Mr Marek Rejman-Greene, for example, opened their February 2003 report to the Home Office by saying the exact opposite: “Biometric methods do not offer 100% certainty of authentication of individuals” (para.4).
Tony Mansfield specialises in biometric device testing at the National Physical Laboratory and Marek Rejman-Greene is the Senior Biometrics Advisor at the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB). Who is right? Those two individuals? Or David Blunkett and all the politicians and civil servants and journalists in the UK and abroad who agree with him?
For Copernicans, the answer depends on the evidence.
There follows a review of the biometrics evidence that has come to light over the past six years.
Tony Mansfield and Marek Rejman-Greene’s report makes the distinction between two different jobs for biometrics – identification (section 2.1) and verification (section 2.2).
Identification is the job of proving that each person has one and only one entry on the population register. Professor John Daugman, the father of biometrics based on the iris, demonstrates easily that that job is not feasible for large populations.
uppose that there were 60 million UK ID cardholders. To prove that each person is represented by a unique electronic identity on the population register, each biometric would have to be compared with all the rest. That would involve making 1.8 x 1015 comparisons.
Suppose further that the false match rate for biometrics based on either facial geometry or fingerprints was one in a million (1 x 10-6). It isn’t. It’s worse than that. But suppose that it was that good, then there would be 1.8 x 109 false matches for IPS to check.
It is not feasible for IPS to check 1.8 billion false matches. It is therefore not feasible for these biometrics to do their identification job.
Verification on the other hand, according to Tony Mansfield, is millions of times easier, and requires only that your facial geometry match the photograph recorded on your ID voucher (whether a passport or an ID card or a biometric visa) or that your fingerprints match the templates recorded on the voucher that you proffer to an immigration control officer, for example, or to a bank manager or to a GP, to underpin your transactions and interactions with them.
It may be millions of times easier, but can the biometrics chosen for the NIS achieve even the job of verification?*
In 2004, the UK Passport Service (UKPS, now IPS) conducted a biometrics enrolment trial. 10,000 of us took part and a report of the trial was published in May 2005.
Under the heading Key Findings (para.1.2), sub-heading Verification Success Rates (para.188.8.131.52), the report says that 31 per cent of people could not have their identity verified using facial recognition technology – they were told that they did not match the photograph of them taken only five minutes before. And that was just the able-bodied participants – for the disabled, the false non-match rate was 52 per cent. And, using flat print fingerprinting technology, 19 per cent of the able-bodied participants could not have their identity verified, and neither could 20 per cent of the disabled**.
Failure rates of 19 and 20, and 31 and 52 per cent clearly scupper IPS’s plans for the NIS. Millions of us would be unable to prove our right to work in the UK if that proof depended on biometrics, we would be unable to obtain non-emergency state healthcare and our children would be barred from state education.
* Verification is a source of some confusion among politicians and the media. If my flat print fingerprints match the templates stored on an ID voucher, then the biometrics have successfully completed their verification job. But was the ID voucher issued by IPS? And even if it was, have I tampered with it since then and inserted my biometrics? The technology needed to answer those further questions and help to make the NIS secure is PKI – the public key infrastructure – and not biometrics. Even David Blunkett gets the two confused, which is surprising considering that he had a job with a PKI company, Entrust, Inc.
** Traditional rolled prints are trusted worldwide and are admissible as evidence in court. But IPS propose to use the new technology of flat print fingerprinting (para.30.86), which is quick and clean, requires no expert in attendance, but appears to fail 19 or 20 per cent of the time and it is not admissible as evidence in court. To give these two different technologies the same name, “fingerprinting”, is literally a confidence trick. According to Professor Daugman, the key to a biometric is the amount of randomness and complexity that it contains. 'Face recognition is inherently unreliable because there isn't nearly enough randomness in the appearance of different faces. Fingerprints are vastly better biometrics than faces,' he says, 'but better still are iris scans'". But note the problem discovered in the UKPS biometrics enrolment trial (para.184.108.40.206). 10 per cent of able-bodied participants were unable to register their iris scans in the first place. That figure rose to 39 per cent for the disabled.
Faced with revolution, the government would have to abandon the NIS. Logic, maths, science, a basic understanding of technology, businesslike common sense, an adult sense of responsibility and simple truth-telling all suggest that the NIS should have been abandoned on the day the biometrics enrolment trial report was published*.
If it wasn’t a test of reliability, why are the reliability figures reported as key findings? Why would IPS want to test usability but not reliability? Surely they wouldn’t deploy the NIS with biometrics that are congenial to everyone but just don't happen to work. And what is this distinction between reliability and usability? For 300 pages, the May 2005 report discusses usability almost entirely in terms of reliability.
Despite the polite and sensible entreaties of the Committee, no large-scale field trial of the reliability of flat print fingerprinting has been subsequently conducted by IPS. If the biometrics enrolment trial was not a reliability test, then there is still no evidence to support IPS’s claim that flat print fingerprinting can deliver their vainglorious ambition.
According to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report, "on 6 March 2006, we met informally a group of senior policy advisers from the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the identity cards programme. When questioned about the maturity of biometric technologies, the advisers agreed that currently the technology was probably not as reliable or as accurate as it might need to be for a national identity card scheme" (para.81).
Logic, maths, science, etc… all having been abandoned, IPS told the Committee, not quite that the earth is flat, but that the maximum acceptable false non-match rate for flat print fingerprinting is one per cent (para.18) and they pointed the Committee (p.126ff) to a May 2004 report written by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
* The false non-match rate associated with IPS's chosen biometrics varies between 19 and 52 per cent. Really? Is that true? There is an obvious counter-example – schools up and down the country use biometrics to take the register, to manage library-lending and to operate cashless canteens. Why don’t they suffer from 19-52 per cent false non-match rates? The answer is given in NIST's May 2004 report. Please see section 4.3, Trading FRR for FAR, pp18-19. (FRR = false reject rate = false non-match rate. FAR = false accept rate = false match rate.) Schools can calibrate their biometric equipment to operate close to a zero false match rate or close to a zero false non-match rate, one or the other, but not both. There is a trade-off. If the school goes for a low false match rate, they will inevitably get a high false non-match rate and vice versa. They go for a low false non-match rate so that not too many pupils starve. That's why there is no false non-matching problem to report.
But there must be a concomitant false matching problem. According to Figure 9 of the NIST report (pp.16-17), with a low false non-match rate, the false match rate can quickly rise to 10 per cent and even higher. Suppose that a pupil collects his or her lunch from the canteen and is identified only by his or her flat print fingerprint. Then, in a school of 1,000 pupils, it is likely that the computerised biometric canteen system can't identify which of 100 pupils in the school is the luncher and that the school is therefore wasting its money.
The implication is instructive – it is that biometric identity is discretionary. Depending on how the operator calibrates the equipment, the biometrics might say that you are you, or they might not. That is not how we usually understand identity. IPS is using an alien version of the concept of identity.
Following 9/11, the newly established US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designed US-VISIT, a biometrics-based scheme to protect the US border from infiltration by malevolent aliens. NIST conducted a computer-based trial of flat print fingerprinting to predict the success of US-VISIT. They estimated that the technology would successfully verify identity 99.5 per cent of the time. That is equivalent to a false non-match rate of 0.5 per cent, well within IPS’s one per cent limit.
In December 2004, the US Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the statistics for the first year of operation of US-VISIT. On average, 118,000 people a day presented themselves to primary inspection at the borders. Primary inspection is largely a biometrics check. If the false non-match rate is 0.5 per cent, you would expect 590 of them to fail and to be referred to secondary inspection by human beings. The actual figure was 22,350 failures or 19 per cent. Just like in the UKPS biometrics enrolment trial.
Round up more fingers
NIST had argued that a true accept rate of 99.5 per cent could be achieved using only two fingerprints. Once US-VISIT had demonstrated that the figure was more like 81 per cent, they teamed up with the US Department of Justice to lobby DHS and the State Department to use 10 fingerprints instead of two.
Would that help? It sounds as though it should but, as Tony Mansfield will tell you, increasing the number of fingers sampled will not lead to an exponential improvement in reliability. Your fingers are not independent events, there are correlations, and if the minutiae on your index fingers are poorly defined they are likely to be poorly defined on your other fingers, too.
Some researchers note that it is hardly worth printing ring fingers and little fingers. NIST found that right index fingers are inexplicably "better" than left index fingers (para.3.1.1).
Moving from two prints to 10 may not help much after all.
NIST provides no support for IPS and the idea that the methodology used in their May 2004 report is a reliable way of forecasting the outcome in the field is thoroughly discredited.*
* Messrs Mansfield and Rejman-Greene note in their report that there are exceptional problems with flat print fingerprinting (Appendix B, p.34). It is obviously hard to enrol people onto the population register if they are missing fingers and/or entire hands. It can also be hard to register older people, they say, manual labourers, East Asians and – that other unimportant minority group – women.
IPS have never explained what alternative arrangements will be made for these cases and the NIST report doesn't consider them. We remain in the dark, therefore, but IPS can't stay silent on the issue forever and when they do propose their alternative arrangements, the question will arise why we can't all use those alternatives and forget about biometrics altogether.
But there have been leaks to the BBC and the Daily Telegraph.
"Sources from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) have revealed that the devices are failing to detect when two people pass through them at the same time. The system [smartgates, the Automated Clearance System (ACS)], which replaces traditional passport control measures, is undergoing a live trial at Manchester Airport, where a UKBA worker said it was suffering almost daily malfunctions. He said immigration officers had been able to accompany travellers through the scanners without an alarm being triggered, even though the booths are supposed to detect if more than one person enters at a time. 'Immigration officers have been able to tailgate passengers through the machine, without the machine picking it up,' he said.
"The source said there were malfunctions taking place almost daily in the pilot project, which is thought to have cost the taxpayer several hundred thousand pounds. 'There are five pods and when one breaks down, they all break down.'
"Up until the point of the official launch, it was rejecting 30 per cent of those who tried to get through it,' the UKBA worker said. 'We believe they had to recalibrate it – essentially make it easier to get through the system'".
Unlikely bin Laden doppelgangers
And the Telegraph has tracked down another biometrics expert, like Tony Mansfield and Marek Rejman-Greene:
"In a leaked memo, an official says the machines have been recalibrated to an 'unacceptable' level meaning travellers whose faces are shown to have only a 30 per cent likeness to their passport photographs can pass through. Rob Jenkins, an expert in facial recognition at Glasgow University's psychology department, said lowering the match level to 30 per cent would make the system almost worthless. Using facial recognition software from Sydney airport in Australia set at 30 per cent, he found the machines could not tell the difference between Osama bin Laden and the actors Kevin Spacey or even the actress Winona Ryder, while Gordon Brown was indistinguishable from Mel Gibson".
When asked whether this technology works, instead of referring to the results of their own field trial, UKBA point to a report produced in March 2007 by... NIST.*
This is another one of NIST’s computer-based trials, not a field trial. The conclusion drawn from the report by both UKBA and HOSDB is that biometrics based on facial geometry are now reliable enough for airport security. No earlier report is cited. No later report is cited. This is the single report on which UKBA and HOSDB rely. Are they right to place so much confidence in it?
The trial uses eight different sets of sample biometric data (p.35). Two of them are sets of iris scan data. Iris scans are not on offer in the NIS and those results of NIST’s are therefore irrelevant. One is a set of three-dimensional face data, also not on offer in the NIS and so, again, irrelevant. Of the remaining five sets of data, four of them are taken from very few subjects (257 subjects in the worst case, then 263, then 335, and 336 subjects in the best case). As any GCSE student can tell you, that is too small a sample for UKBA to be able to decide whether the technology would work for 60 million people in the UK.
Which leaves us with just one relevant sample dataset, of 36,000 subjects. And how well did facial recognition verify their identity? According to Figure 20 of the NIST report (p.46), at a false match rate of 0.01 per cent, 100 times worse than Professor Daugman's working figure, the false non-match rate varies between eight per cent and 19 per cent, depending on which supplier’s biometrics algorithm is used.
* In the course of its May 2004 report, claiming that flat print fingerprinting works well, NIST had this to say about the alternative, facial recognition: "Even under controlled illumination, which is not used in US-VISIT, the error rate of face is 50 times higher than the two-fingerprint results discussed here. If the case of uncontrolled illumination is considered, this factor would be 250. This means that face recognition is useful only for those cases where fingerprints of adequate quality cannot be obtained" (para.3.3).
By March 2007, NIST would have us believe, facial recognition algorithms had improved by one or even two orders of magnitude. IPS, UKBA and HOSDB may believe that. But note that the US government seems to be in no hurry to incorporate facial recognition into US-VISIT and certainly not into an ID card scheme for their own nationals.
Once again, NIST provide no support to IPS or UKBA or HOSDB. A false non-match rate of between eight and 19 per cent does not sound like convincing evidence for the reliability of facial recognition as a biometric. And remember that these figures emanate from a methodology which has already been discredited as a predictor of outcomes in the field.
Mansfield and Rejman-Greene note in their report that the reliability of biometrics based on facial geometry falls off a cliff two months after people are first photographed – "even under relatively good conditions, face recognition fails to approach the required performance" (para.52d). For the first two months in the life of any new passport, verification will be erratic. For the last 118 months, it will be impossible – that is the implication. What do NIST have to say about this problem? Nothing.
There is one other piece of facial geometry evidence which it would be useful to see, and that is a report on the results of China’s 10 million faces test, an element of Operation Golden Shield. China, like the UK, is keen on using biometrics. That report is unfortunately not available.
Here at the end of the review, the adventitious question arises of why do politicians and civil servants all over the world continue to advocate the use of biometrics when the evidence simply doesn’t support them? There is no answer. Their behaviour is inexplicable.
One thing is clear, though, and that is that biometrics cannot deliver. Identification is not feasible. Verification is laughably unreliable. And the flat earther David Blunkett is wrong. So is Tony Blair when he says that “biometrics give us the chance to have secure identity”. And so is Gordon Brown when he says that biometrics “will make it possible to securely link an individual to a unique identity”.
The scale of the institutional fantasy which constitutes the NIS is grotesque. Biometrics cannot underpin the NIS and so, by IPS’s logic, the NIS cannot underpin the “interactions and transactions between individuals, public services and businesses”. Safeguarding Identity is a false prospectus – no properly managed stock exchange would allow its shares to be listed. The NIS is guaranteed to fail.*
• IPS have not even provided a way to collect everyone's biometrics. Italy (population 58 million) has a national network of about 8,000 ID card registration centres. The Netherlands (17m) has – or plans to have – about 4,000 centres. The UK (61m) was recommended by Tony Mansfield and Marek Rejman-Greene to set up a network of about 2,000 centres (para.105), a curiously low number, but not as low as the number IPS came up with: 69. Instead of registering people themselves, IPS expect high street retailers to do the job for them. But which high street retailer, having spent decades growing a trusted brand, will risk the anger of 20 per cent of their customers who, having handed over their fingerprints, are told as a result that they have no right to work in the UK? Fantasy. ®
• If UKBA use flat print fingerprinting to check everyone coming into the country, and everyone leaving the country, UK nationals, other EEA nationals and non-EEA nationals alike, and if the technology performs as well as it does in US-VISIT, then they will have to detain about 8,000 travellers a day. The prisons are full. Where are UKBA going to put all the detainees? Fantasy.
* Anyone not convinced by the facts, figures and arguments presented here may consider the conclusion of the Office of Government Commerce, an independent office of HM Treasury: "This has all the inauspicious signs of a project continuing to be driven by an arbitrary end date rather than reality... I conclude that we are setting ourselves up to fail".
What's more, the UK Passport Agency (UKPA, previously the Passport Office, subsequently UKPS, subsequently IPS) agrees: "I wouldn't argue with a lot of this...".
In addition to the politicians and civil servants driving the NIS, there are, of course, the consultancies, notably PA Consulting. PA give it as their opinion that biometrics is mostly hype.
And beyond the consultancies, there are the biometrics companies themselves. The history of L-1 Identity Solutions, Inc., one of the more financially successful members of the industry, provides some support for PA's view and no support for the NIS.
David Moss has been in IT for over 30 years now and works as an IT consultant. He has failed for over six years to convince the government that we already have ID cards, in the form of our mobile phones, but it's early days yet - the standard gestation period is apparently 12 years. While waiting for the government to have the original idea themselves that we don't need the ID cards the Identity & Passport Service keep writing press releases about, because we already have mobile phones, he is trying to make people confront the evidence before their eyes, that the biometrics emperor has no clothes.
Editor's note: A more heavily annotated version of this document is also available in PDF form, from David Moss himself, or from The Register's library, here.