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Sun, Jan. 11th, 2004, 01:22 pm
Since half baked, ill informed rants on biometrics are the theme of the week.

At the best of times I'm pretty left wing, left wing authoritarian according to that political compass thing. This apparantly puts me in the same category of Ghandi which would work fine for me except for my belief that public floggings should be introduced for bad driving or parking.

Consequently I'm almost always going to object to the godawful policies spewing forth from the white house these days. I think the DMCA for example is a hideously transparent piece of work designed to trample all over consumer rights. The Patriot Act is the very definition of sacrificing some liberties for temporary security.

However, the hoo-hah about the new immigration policies in the US have me puzzled and to be honest while I have seen a couple of worthy arguments against it, for the most part objections seem to be based on a knee jerk "It's from the American Government so it must be bad" reaction with little or no basis in fact, the most serious being "It's inconvenient" or "It'll not work quite right".

First off, yes, it is inconvenient - there's no denying that. That said though, it will only be inconvenient to non US citizens (lets ignore the exemptions given to several western nations since they won't really apply for all that long it would seem) and as I've mentioned elsewhere, a nation's immigration policy is their own business. If I want to travel to a country then it becomes my problem that they want my fingerprints, no one is forcing me to go there and it's not an invasive process. I sort of get the impression that there is a feeling that since America is so big and powerful and a desirable place to visit that somehow they have an obligation to let us all in unhindered. Can someone tell me why we are not objecting to Brazil's implementation of a similar system? Sure, the US government is objecting to it and we deride them for it but why is all the attention focused on the US if the "problem" exists in two nations with plenty more to come?

My second point is, yes, it is not a perfect system, nor will it be for quite some time, yes, the machinery can be fooled, yes, again, it is not perfect.
But then neither are passports, passports can be forged, immigration papers can be faked, ID in general can easily be made up in a short time using inexpensive hardware and a bit of know how. Mistakes may well be made and innocent people will be mistaken for terrorists.

And this differs from the current system how exactly? At least with a verifiable database of fingerprints to use the terrorist identification system will be a bit more sophisticated than "I don't like the look of him" or "that guy has a funny name". I think it's important to differentiate between the problems that will exist with this new system and the problems inherent in the system as a whole.
1) The system can be spoofed - the current system can be spoofed
2) Certain ethnicities will be harassed - that's happening now
3) Political dissenters may be barred from entering the US - happens all the time these days.
4) Terrorists will still be able to enter the US - no change from the existing system.

The new biometrics system will not solve any of these problems, The harrassment of certain groups is something that must be dealt with seperately to the system of identification used. The simple question to be asked is "Ignoring the human factor, will a system of identification using biometrics be better than the current identification system using passports?" In my own opinion the human factor will be mitigated somewhat since their judgement will be less of an issue.

The biometrics system is not perfect and it will both need and get improvement over time but simply because a system is not perfect on implementation is no reason not to do it.
(Deleted comment)

Sun, Jan. 11th, 2004 10:20 am (UTC)

False positives aside (since they're a highly debatable problem and dependent on the quality of the software used) sometimes it's necessary to take a step backwards before you can move on. The existing system can only do so much and it could be argued (quite easily) that relying on something as primitive as a piece of card in this day of sophisticated terrorism is worse than pointless.
Just because it won't start catching terrorists and international criminals from day one is no reason not to bother with it. It'll get there and I reckon it could be a fantastic system if we give it time and just bear with it for a while.

Also, I never said it doesn't improve things, or at least won't given time, what I was getting at was that it doesn't actively make things worse, granted there is an inconvenience the first time you visit but therafter there should not be a problem. I think the gist of my point is that like so many inventions that streamline an operation previously run by humans (online banking, ATM cards, online gambling for example) there are hitches initially, everyone dislikes change, especially radical changes, but eventually we come to accept them for the good idea that they are.

Heck, not that I was around for it, but I can only imagine the original introduction of passports was greeted with fear and loathing and now they're an accepted fact of life despite the complaints levelled against them and the problems they still have.

Sun, Jan. 11th, 2004 11:37 am (UTC)

I dunno - I h've been out of circulation for a bit so haven't heard much about this - but it strikes me as perhaps being more successful a system than the visa system the U.S. employed up until the 80's. Then, even for a tourist visa, you had to fill in a form which asked questions like (and I kid you not) 'Are you a member or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?' 'Do you intend to cause sedition or terrorism?', etc. 'Cos, like, terrorists are honest when it comes to form-filling...

Sun, Jan. 11th, 2004 11:53 am (UTC)

communist, nazi, drug dealer, dealer in illicit substances... as I recall it was a bit of a running gag for countless comedians for many years.
Definitely the biometrics is a better idea than that one.

The last point I meant to make and kept forgetting to was that biometrics could be of incredible use in the tragic case of an aircraft accident, the more unique individual data the government and airlines have about the passengers the easier it will be to make identifications and ensure that the grieving relatives never have to wonder if it really is their son/father/daughter in that grave.

Sun, Jan. 11th, 2004 12:07 pm (UTC)

Hey, you had to fill in that form at least up until last year.
I was rather tempted to fill in that I had been a member of the Nazi party (being a twenty-something Irish person, y'know) just to see what would happen, but I rather suspected that it wouldn't be pleasant, so I forbore...

Sun, Jan. 11th, 2004 12:29 pm (UTC)

Yeah, US immigration services aren't exactly noted for their sense of humor :)

Sun, Jan. 11th, 2004 03:05 pm (UTC)

Tell me about it - I ducked under a rope the last time I was on my way over because there was a huge windey roped off area with no-one queueing and the woman spent five minutes screaming at me about how I couldn't sue them...