Biometrics are coming .... or not?
April 26, 2004 6:05 PM   Subscribe

After all the hoopla about increasing security, it seems that the requirement for biometric data to be included in passports of those entering the US from visa waiver countries will need to be extended for two years to allow other countries to catch up with the technology, as it seems most countries are unable to meet the deadline. Some countries have put on hold the new technology, while others seem committed to going ahead with it, despite doubts about the readiness of the technology. Of course, if civil liberties groups get their way, the biometric passports may never see the light of day. Specific religious issues complicate the matter to some extent, also. Given that, if the technology to produce biometric passports is available, will it really be that hard for forged passports to be created? Unless a massive world-wide database containing the biometric details of every person was used for data-matching, it is hard to see how these new measures will really make much difference to anyone apart from the companies selling the technology.
posted by dg (4 comments total)
I don't see how any of it will keep us safer, at all. But this seems necessary for it even to begin to function, and it's a scary thought: a massive world-wide database containing the biometric details of every person was used for data-matching...

And I didn't know our own passports are going digital: embedded microchip that stores a compressed image of its owner's face. These microchips will be designed to prevent tampering and each digital image will be cryptographically signed to guarantee its authenticity.
posted by amberglow at 6:41 PM on April 26, 2004

Any biometrics ID card can be forged. Even the most secure biometric bank cards are available as blanks in Singapore and elsewhere just weeks after their introduction. However, making forgery impossible is not the point. Instead, the goal is simply to raise the cost of terrorism.

Obviously, if a biometric passport becomes hard to forge it's probably easier to just get phony ID as a resident. That's why I believe that these biometric passports are just a pilot program towards the eventual rollout of a biometric national identity card, probably in the form of a secure, nationally standardized driver's license.

If a terrorist can fly into Mexico and pick up a forged social security card for $50 that is indistinguishable from a real social security card, then infiltrating the country undetected is fairly easy. If, however, getting a forged biometric ID costs $5,000 per person, that's more money they have to put up. And further, the harder the technology is to forge, the more likely it is that a mistake will be made somewhere and the forgery will be detected.

And most importantly, even with a forged card the terrorist would have to present his biometric identifier (probably his fingerprint) for verification with the card. If the fingerprint is not properly registered with the US Customs (or if it is on a terrorist "watch list") then the FBI can be alerted. And the terrorist is now marked - he can never enter the country again without throwing up a red flag, because his fingerprint will never change.

So this strategy requires the US to spend a lot of money, and in so doing it forces the terrorists to spend some more money and take more risks. That doesn't require an infallible card, just a sophisticated one.
posted by gd779 at 7:13 PM on April 26, 2004

and who's gonnal pay for all this safety?
posted by Miles Long at 10:03 PM on April 26, 2004

The last sentence of your post says it all, dg. Just another take on the missile shield, men on mars and rebuilding Iraq.
posted by donfactor at 1:58 AM on April 27, 2004

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