Fantasy and the Home Office
UKBA are currently working to a 10-point delivery plan for the year. They have made 10 pledges. Pledge no.7 is, by August 2009, to "have completed delivery of new facial recognition technology in 10 terminals, giving British passengers a faster, secure route through the border".
It is now August 2009. Have UKBA delivered these 10 biometrics facilities? Apparently not. So much for pledges.
Even if they have and the news has somehow not come out, there is no reason to believe that border-crossing would be speeded up as a result. Quite the opposite. Nor is there any reason to believe that biometrics would make the border more secure.
The UK civil service doesn't make irrational pledges. The UK civil service doesn't fail to honour its pledges. Not normally. What is going on?
There is clearly a psychological fixation across several departments of the government on biometrics. Something to the effect that biometrics will make it possible to identify everyone and once everyone has a unique fixed identity, under government management, the problems of government will all be solved.
One simple question: are there any biometrics capable of doing the job?
One of the essential components is missing, they know it's missing, and yet they proceed with the ID cards scheme and with eBorders. It's fantasy. An expensive fantasy. And fantasy has strange results in the real world:
We have a Home Secretary who believes that ID cards should be essential to everyday life and at the same time he believes that they should not be compulsory .
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) are devoting resources to the deployment of facial recognition technology at UK passenger terminals, when there is no known evidence to suggest that this technology works, and a lot of evidence to suggest that it doesn't .
Meanwhile, the basics seem to be ignored. It took until December 2008 to make use of an Interpol database to increase border security and, nine years after the offer was made, we still aren't using the EU database .
Sir Michael Scholar, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, says that: "having good statistics is like having clean water and clean air. Its the fundamental material that we depend on for an honest political debate" .
And the peculiar thing is, in this fantasy world, that there are no official statistics for the reliability of the biometrics chosen for the ID cards scheme and for eBorders. To proceed with those initiatives without the figures for reliability is unbusinesslike, irresponsible and irrational. We want, need, deserve and pay for better government than this.
Identity management is the job of the Identity & Passport Service (IPS). IPS are responsible for registering births, deaths and marriages. They are responsible for recording the biometrics of every UK citizen aged 16 and over. They are responsible for creating and maintaining the National Identity Register. They are responsible for issuing everyone with ID cards and for issuing ePassports. They get £500 million a year, from the Home Office and passport-holders combined , and that's not fantasy money, it's real.
IPS some official statistics, please, and if you haven't got any, shall we stop this embarrassing charade?
Note to editors
This is the fourth and last in the x and the Home Office series of press releases.
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