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".

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