Tuesday, 31 January 2012

John Vine, Brodie Clark, Keith Vaz, Theresa May, Damian Green and Helen Ghosh

Today's the day. The deadline for John Vine, Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, to submit his report on the Brodie Clark affair to the Home Office.

Will the public be allowed to see it? This matter concerns our border security and it concerns the safety of the 2012 Olympics. It's a matter of public interest.

But don't get your hopes up. Look what happened to the Home Affairs Committee.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Economist magazine sticks its nose into Indian politics, comes away with egg on its face

After 30 years of reading The Economist, you know what to expect.

The correct answers to most questions are found by letting markets operate freely, as far as The Economist is concerned and politically, that rules out any system that pretends to be able to manage control the economy. The magazine is socially liberal. There's not a hint of racism in it, or sexism – "meritocracy" is the name of the game. Arguments are conducted logically, preferably they're quantitative, the emphasis is on rational management techniques and evidence-based public administration. The magazine is the opposite of insular, open to new ideas wherever they come from, and always up to speed with new technology.

Given which, what on earth happened in the 14 January 2012 edition? It was out of character. Its Scottish Enlightenment body was snatched by aliens. Did The Economist suffer some sort of editorial stroke?

Friday, 27 January 2012

While acknowledging that the web is a dangerous place to be, that's where Whitehall want to put all public services

There is a constant stream of scare stories in the media about hackers committing crimes on the web. National infrastructure can be disabled (Russian hackers), companies have their intellectual property stolen (the Chinese), and your bank account can be raided (Ukrainians). The stories have one message – the web is not a safe place. The government agree, and have set aside £650 million for the UK's cyber defences. At the same time, the government are planning to put all public services on the web. Are they coming or going? Do they know?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

GreenInk 4 published – Private Eye blinks, misses a scoop

Private Eye
13 January – 26 January 2012
Eye 1305
p.17

Prints fingered:
Sir

While the Eye joins in with the establishment rubbishing of Brodie Clark ("Border line personality", In the Back, Eye 1302) – in your case by quoting the ineffably smug Michael Mansfield – you ignore the improvised explosive device Mr Clark detonated when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee.

The fingerprinting technology wished on UKBA is the least reliable identity/security check made at the border, Mr Clark said, it is the ninth and bottom priority and, if any check has to be suspended, it is "very sensible" to suspend the fingerprint check. It is presumably of no interest to you that the Home Office want to replace hundreds or even thousands of Border Force staff with a technology that might work in Hollywood films but certainly doesn't at Heathrow.


Yours
David Moss

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Theresa May, Damian Green, Keith Vaz, Roger Gale, Yvette Cooper, Alan Johnson, Jacqui Smith, John Reid, Charles Clarke, David Blunkett, Helen Ghosh, John Vine, Brodie Clark, Gus O'Donnell, David Normington, James Hall, Jackie Keane and IBM

John Vine's job becomes more interesting by the day.

In the Sunday Times* of 8 January 2012, Isabel Oakeshott and Mark Hookham wrote:
Border staff give up fingerprinting of Eurotunnel stowaways
Border staff have stopped fingerprinting illegal immigrants caught trying to enter Britain through the Channel Tunnel.

Documents seen by The Sunday Times reveal how stowaways discovered in cars, lorries and coaches inside the Eurotunnel compound at Coquelles, north of Calais, no longer have their fingerprints routinely taken.

The revelation will renew pressure on Theresa May, the home secretary, who was last year embroiled in controversy over the secret relaxation of British border controls.

That scandal led to the resignation of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) chief, Brodie Clark.

Damian Green, the immigration minister, has defended the abandonment of the “lengthy” process of taking fingerprints, saying UKBA staff were better served searching vehicles instead ...

Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet who wrote to the Home Office to demand an explanation ...

In a letter to Gale, Green confirmed that ...

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, described Green’s letter as “astonishing” and said: “By not even bothering to fingerprint anyone, the government is sending a signal that this is not a serious offence and people should feel free to keep trying.”
"No, Ms Cooper", Mr Vine may say, "by not even bothering to fingerprint anyone, the government is sending a signal that this technology doesn't work, it's a waste of time and the Border Force has better things to do than play charades.

"You say you're astonished. But why?

"Do you realise, Ms Cooper, that the fingerprint technology used at the border isn't the traditional police technology in which the world has grown confident over the past century and more? It's flat print fingerprinting. It's quick, it's clean, there's no expert required and it doesn't work. Why do you insist on defending a technology you know nothing about?

"Please don't give me that look, Ms Cooper. It's not just you. Alan Johnson fell for it. So did Jacqui Smith. And John Reid and Charles Clarke and David Blunkett. Not to mention Theresa May. Why did she go in to bat for a technology that doesn't work?

"How many degrees of freedom, would you say, does a biometric need, to be able to identify every member of a population of 60 million? What's the minimum false positive identification rate we need, in your experience, to keep the border safe, what's the correspondingly high false negative identification rate and how many extra Border Force staff do you need every day, to conduct the hundreds of thousands of redundant secondary inspections? In your opinion, would you say that biometrics is currently under statistical control? What precisely is your take on the admissibility of flat print fingerprint evidence in a court of law?

"You don't know, do you, and neither does Ms May, but the thing is, Ms Cooper, no-one actually expects you politicians to understand the technicalities.

"That's what officials are for.

"The real question is, why have all those officials at the Home Office stood by for years and watched as you politicians have committed yourselves more and more irrevocably to biometrics?

"Well not Brodie Clark, he hasn't, he's told Keith Vaz that flat print fingerprinting is a waste of time.

"But the rest of them. O'Donnell's getting a peerage. Normington's become First Civil Service Commissioner. James Hall's retired. They've all got away, and meanwhile some of the more vindictive types want to strip Brodie Clark of his pension.

"It's a monumental mess of a legacy for Helen Ghosh to sort out. Telling Jackie Keane she's been wasting her time won't be easy. Neither will telling IBM their services are no longer required. Still. Icy calm under fire. That's what they're bred for, these permanent secretaries.

"Think of me this afternoon with the cold towel round my head, Ms Cooper, I've got to write a report about Brodie Clark being suspended for doing what UKBA are now doing as a matter of policy. Piece of cake for you politicians, I imagine, but for an ex-copper ...".

----------
* If you don't have a subscription to the Times, you can read the same article in the Telegraph, where it's attributed to someone called "Daily Telegraph Reporter".

Monday, 9 January 2012

PressRelease: Brodie Clark and the scoop the media missed

PRESS RELEASE

To:
Home Office
OIG (re US-VISIT)
IDABC (re OSCIE)
China (re Golden Shield)
Pakistan (re NADRA)
FBI (re NGI)
UIDAI (re Aadhaar)
Agencies
Brodie Clark and the scoop the media missed
9 January 2012
It was such an easy story to write when the pack was let loose last November. Brodie Clark had endangered us all by suspending biometric checks at the border.
It was so easy that, when Brodie Clark gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, no-one noticed the bombshell he smuggled in.
Border security in the UK, the control of migration and the safety of the 2012 Olympics all depend, we are told by the UK Border Agency, on biometric checks. Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money – your money and mine – have been spent since the coalition government came to power on security systems which depend for their success on the biometrics used being reliable.
And what did Brodie Clark say? In a six-minute passage of his testimony, between 12:18 and 12:24 on 15 November 2011, he said that the fingerprint check is the least reliable security/identity check available at the border, it is the ninth and bottom priority for officers of the Border Force and when push comes to shove (literally) in the marshalling areas for airport arrivals, it is “very sensible” to suspend fingerprint checks, that is a practice of his former staff, he was at pains to emphasise, that he approved at the time and still approves of.
To paraphrase, Theresa May is quite right to be furious, but not with Brodie Clark. Her fury should properly be directed at the credulous adoption of expensive technology that doesn’t work. That is what threatens the security of the border and the control of migration and the safety of the Olympics.
It’s a major story. And the media missed it.
Luckily, the opportunity will soon be with us for the media to make good. Some time in the next few weeks John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, will present his report on the Brodie Clark affair to the Home Office.
All eyes on John Vine and that report of his. Let’s get it right this time.
For background briefing, please see:


About Business Consultancy Services Ltd (BCSL):
BCSL has operated as an IT consultancy since 1984. The past 9 years have been spent campaigning against the Home Office's plans to introduce government ID cards into the UK. It must now be admitted that the Labour government 1997-2010 were much better at convincing people that these plans are a bad idea than anyone else, including BCSL.
Press contacts: David Moss, BCSL@blueyonder.co.uk

Theresa May, Keith Vaz, John Vine and Brodie Clark

The allegations against Brodie Clark are listed in Rt Hon Theresa May MP's statement to the House on 7 November 2011:
First, biometric checks on EEA nationals and Warnings Index checks on EEA national children were abandoned on a regular basis, without ministerial approval.

Biometric checks on non-EEA nationals were also thought to have been abandoned on occasions, without ministerial approval.

Second, adults were not checked against the Warnings Index at Calais, without ministerial approval.

Third, the verification of the fingerprints of non-EEA nationals from countries that require a visa was stopped, without ministerial approval.
The suggestion is that Brodie Clark has deliberately endangered us all. No wonder the Home Secretary was furious. If the allegations are proven, then Mr Clark's behaviour was monstrous.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Theresa May, Damian Green, Helen Ghosh, John Vine, Jonathan Sedgwick, Brodie Clark and Jackie Keane

In their Annual Report and Accounts for the year ending 31 March 2011, signed by Jonathan Sedgwick, Acting Chief Executive at the time, UKBA say (p.12):
The average number of full-time equivalent (FTE) active staff we paid for either directly or indirectly during 2010-11 was 23,426 (compared with 24,474 in 2009-10) The size of the agency’s workforce reduced by around 1,900 (8 per cent) during 2010-11. We plan to achieve further efficiencies, resulting in further workforce reductions, in the period between April 2011 and March 2015.
UKBA plan to reduce the headcount by a further 4,500 by 31 March 2015 (p.13).

How?

Brodie Clark and Jackie Keane

UK Border Agency News is published bi-monthly. Issue 6, the March 2011 edition, includes this article (p.5):
The Immigration & Asylum Biometric System (IABS)
The latest in biometric matching technology will be introduced to the agency in 2011. The Immigration & Asylum Biometric System (IABS) will replace our current fingerprint system (IAFS) at the end of 2011 with the latest in biometric matching technology.

Biometrics are used overseas, at the border and in country to establish a unique identity for each applicant. This is principally in the form of digital fingerprints and a facial photograph. Fingerprints are recorded and checked when individuals are applying for visas or biometric residence permits, and when asylum seekers require registration cards. The biometric information helps to ensure that decisions are made quickly and fairly and that the UK is protected.

IABS will replace the current system while also incorporating additional features. It will allow biometrics to be taken, stored and matched with improved accuracy to ensure that identity is reliably established, whether at the border or within country. It will also improve the service currently offered by providing the flexibility to extend the system in the future should additional functionality be required.

An exciting development has been the recent approval for the IABS technology to capture biometrics of visa national Games Family Members (GFM) during the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. GFM include athletes, coaches, sporting officials, sponsors and the media who are travelling on the Olympic or Paralympic Identity and Accreditation Card.

By replacing the existing fingerprint system with improved and advanced technology we are ensuring that the agency can continue to secure the border and control migration now and in the future. The IABS Programme Team, led by Programme Director Jackie Keane, is working closely with its suppliers IBM, Fujitsu and ATOS and the testing phase of the programme has started.

For further information please contact Janis MacLennan IABS Partnership and Communication Manager on 0203 014 4297.
Jackie Keane is a senior civil servant. You'll find her on the UK Border Agency Senior Management Team organisation chart, November 2011. She wants you to believe that, thanks to the ability of biometrics based on facial geometry and flat print fingerprints to "establish a unique identity" quickly, accurately and reliably for everyone*, the border will be secured, migration will be controlled and the Olympics will be safe.

Brodie Clark was an even more senior civil servant. And when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 15 November 2011 (12:18-12:24), he said that the fingerprint check at the border was the least reliable security/identity check, it is the ninth and bottom priority and, when the crowds in the Arrivals area threaten to become chaotic, it is "very sensible" to stop doing fingerprint checks.

They can't both be right.

That is the "confusion ... in this vital area of national security" that the Independent failed to identify. That is the scoop that Brodie Clark provided at his evidence session in front of the Home Affairs Committee and that the Independent and every other media organisation missed.


* Biometrics do not have this ability. The UK Border Agency News article is misleading

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Lin Homer, Brodie Clark and Ron Noble

Ron Noble, Secretary General of Interpol, is in London to discuss security arrangements for the Olympics.

He gave an interview to the Independent. Interpol maintains a database of lost and stolen passports, and:
Britain is the only EU country to systematically check passports against those registered as missing worldwide. Last year more than 11,000 people were caught trying to enter the UK using lost or stolen passports. Britain carries out more checks against the database than the rest of Europe combined – 140 million last year. France carried out the second highest number, at 10 million.

The UK Border Agency acknowledged the importance of the Interpol system, saying its high usage of the database was "indicative of the seriousness and priority we place on border security".
This is quite a turnaround.