Wednesday 6 January 2016

Border control, gun control and biometrics in the news

The BBC's News at Ten is the UK's leading TV news programme. Last night's edition was interesting for what it did say about biometrics and what it didn't.

On 3 January 2016 all news media carried reports of the latest atrocity committed by the psychopaths of ISIS. Here is the Times newspaper, for example, on the subject:

The Isis terror group in Syria has released a new propaganda video purporting to show the ritualised killing of five “British spies” in revenge for British airstrikes on Syria.

The ten minute footage begins with five men of Middle Eastern appearance, each dressed in orange jumpsuits, talking to the camera one by one and “confessing” to spying on behalf of the UK security services.

The men appear to be wearing handcuffs, and occasionally seem to shake, but do not appear to be under any duress.

This video switches to the desert, where five men are seen on their knees in front of masked militants in winter camouflage uniform.

One of the militants, wearing a balaclava, speaks in Arabic and then switches to English with a London accent. The man addresses Mr Cameron, describing him as “insignificant” and a “slave of the White House” and “mule of the Jews”.
Who is the psychopath who "switches to English with a London accent" and who refers to our Prime Minister as a "mule of the Jews"?

He is thought to be one Siddhartha Dhar, a bouncy castle salesman from Walthamstow, East London.

Mr Dhar was arrested in the UK, released on police bail and asked to hand in his passport to his nearest police station which he didn't. Instead, he left the country with his wife and their children, went to Paris and mocked the UK authorities in a blog post, exulting in how easy it had been to escape.

We are supposed to have exit controls now in the UK. They clearly don't work, as the National Audit Office were telling us a month ago. We've spent £830 million on our eBorders system and "there are some early signs that the Department is beginning to grip this vital programme", the NAO tell us at para.23 on p.12 of their report.

Be that as it may, the question remains is Mr Dhar the psychopath in the ISIS video or isn't he? Mr Dhar sounds to some people like the psychopath. And on the News at Ten last night we were treated to this:

A voice biometrics expert was called in and said that on the basis of his voice biometrics expertise Mr Dhar sounds like the psychopath. We knew that. That's why the voice biometrics expert was called in. What he's confirmed is that the reason he was called in is that he was called in. The biometrics has added nothing whatever.

Biometrics has not identified the psychopath. The reverential treatment of biometrics is akin to the credulous acquiescence in astrology. Next time you're kneeling in the desert in an orange suit with a pistol stuck in the back of your head, remember that – biometrics is no defence, it doesn't provide security.

That's what last night's TV news did tell us.

It shouldn't come as a surprise.

Cast your mind back to the riots in the UK in the summer of 2011 and to Operation Withern:
Public asked to name rioters on internet ‘rogues gallery’

... Photographs, video and CCTV images will be examined by 450 detectives involved in Operation Withern. Simon Foy, a Metropolitan Police Commander, said: “We will be remorseless in our pursuit of these individuals.”
450 detectives had to review all the photographs, video and CCTV images available and the public had to help to identify the rioters. We have national databases of passport photographs and driving licence photographs and how much help was the face recognition biometrics industry? About as much help as the voice recognition biometrics industry was yesterday. None.

Later on, the TV news moved to President Obama's latest effort to increase gun control in the US:

The biometrics industry will tell you that the solution to the problems of gun control is ... biometrics. For example:
A Biometric Gun Lock That Even the NRA Might Like

Yes, he [Omer Kiyani, a gun victim] believes in making guns safer, but he’s not your typical safety advocate. He’s a gun owner himself, and he wants to control firearms in the most practical of ways. That’s why he founded Sentinl, a Detroit-based startup that’s designing a biometric gun lock called Identilock. Attaching to a gun’s trigger, it unlocks only when the owner applies a fingerprint.
Why didn't the BBC or the President mention that?

Because it wouldn't work.

The false negative rate with flat print fingerprinting is about 20 percent. About 20 percent of the time, a policeman trying to shoot a psychopath in Paris, say, would be refused permission by his Identilock-controlled gun. Would you go into action against odds like that? Neither would anyone else. So that's useless.

You can improve the odds by relaxing the matching threshold required. That would make it more likely that the police could be effective. But false negatives are in inverse proportion to false positives. 20 percent of the time, a person not the owner of the gun could then make it fire. Which negates the point of Identilock and its peer technologies like Apple Touch ID.

In its own way, the News at Ten's silence on this point was just as telling as its exciting visuals on voice biometrics, right up there with the beguiling artwork of astrology.


Updated 7.1.16

The BBC news website has just published:
Charlie Hebdo anniversary: Suspect shot by Paris police

French police have shot dead a man who was apparently trying to attack a police station, on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Just as well the police weren't hampered by biometrics-controlled guns, isn't it.

Remember that, next time someone tries to convince you that "biometrics" means security.

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