UK legislators to vote tomorrow on biometric ID tomorrow; problems persist

Published 17 October 2005

The House of Commons will vote tomorrow on whether to give the Identity Cards Bill its Third Reading, with about twenty Labour MPs joining the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to oppose the measure. The center of gravity in the debate over biometric ID is slowly shifting from civil liberties to practicalities and costs. These practicalities, however, are important.

UK Home Office minister Tony McNulty admitted that the UK government ambitious plan for a national biometric ID must first overcome technical problems, some of which are rather surprising. The UK plan is the most ambitious in that it envisions each card to carry thirteen biometric identifiers (facial recognition, two iris checks, and ten finger prints). McNulty revealed that biometric readers have special difficulties with iris

signatures of people with brown eyes. Other studies have found that being scanned in the wrong type of light or in shadow could lead to an inaccurate identification. More than that, internal reports for the government warned that manual laborers, pianists, guitarists, typists, and surgeons, among others, have a higher percentage of fingerprints that are worn or nicked and thus could find that their fingerprints do not match an earlier fingerprint in storage. Government trials had also demonstrated that the biometrics of

black, elderly, and disabled people have a higher chance of being incorrectly matched.

All biometrics will face some acceptance problems to some degree. Some of the general population do not have the body part (or sufficient quality of the body part) required for measuring any one biometric except face. Some face-recognition techniques are exposed to instability, in particular because of some people’s voluntary change of appearance, the effects of ageing, and differences in illumination between environments.”

-Dublin, Ireland-based Amtec Consulting in a report to the British government on the difficulties biometric ID faced.