Monday, February 21, 2005

Biometric Passport ID

First off, it damn well snowed again. Why anyone would choose to live here is beyond me.

Apparently the US is going to start requiring passports with embedded RFID chips to get into the country. These passports will store the same info that is on regular passports (including a digital picture). Also they will have the ability to be read remotely.

There are two problems with this scheme, one minor and one major.

With automated facial recognition, the problem is that its not 100% accurate. That's not really the problem some regard it as. Human comparers aren't 100% reliable either. What we need is data comparing people with the machines - both on false positives and false negatives. From my own experience, people are pretty poor at this (especially if there's any sort of time pressure involved). Strangely I don't see either side asking this question. One side says biometrics will solve everything and the other says not to use it because its not perfect. We don't compare one option with perfection and if it doesn't measure up choose the other.

The real problem with this whole scheme is the remote reading ability. The specs call for readers to have a 10 cm range, but that isn't a hard limit. Readers with greater power or sensitivity can read from greater distances. The main question is what advantage does this give us and what risks does it have? Outside the port of embarkation, passports aren't required for ID so why would anyone carry one around? Can't scan passports if they're not carrying them. On the other hand snagging passport data is made easier this way (especially as the data willnot be encrypted). Seems to me that there's no particular advantage and lots of risks.

Ha Ha Ha is right, clowns are dangerous. The ones who thought this up are going to get us killed.

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