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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Biometrics and the HMRC data loss, is there a link?

27 November, 2007
Recent reports are calling for the national ID card system to be scrapped in the wake of the HMRC data loss but the relevance is questionable to say the least.
There are both positive and negative aspects to the aftermath of the data loss reported by the HMRC last week. The positive aspects are that awareness has been significantly raised concerning the risk and the government is doing something about its data protection regime. One negative aspect is the political mileage that is being made of it for opponents to such unrelated projects as the technology behind the national ID project. The concerned are asking what will happen if biometric data is compromised and the uninformed are replying that the consequences would be catastrophic.

Biometric data is a code, a set of encoded digits which can be compared to the set of encoded digits produced by the same algorithm based on the presentation of a biometric component. Without your face, your iris, your vascular pattern or your fingerprint, no-one can steal your identity from the code. If you have a card with your biometric fingerprint code on it, a scanner and the necessary software, you can verify that the owner of the fingerprint is the same as the owner of the card, that's all.

The science of biometrics is not scary and is not threatening. It is, however, highly secure and not subject to the same threats of compromisation as PIN codes, passwords or other pieces of data that can be stolen and re-assembled to create duplicate identities.

The technology is maturing quickly and has already reached a stage where false positives are insignificant and reliability levels have reached a stage where it is widely used in industry, border control and even in the government's own visa application and immigration control process.

Biometric technology has taken hundreds of active terrorists off the streets throughout the world, prevented dangerous criminals from crossing borders, identified corpses, missing persons and both the victims and perpetrators of child pornography. Significant progress is being made in identity management and the fight against serious crimes using this technology and when it finally becomes mainstream, the current resistance to it will seem quite absurd.

For more information on this, take a look at today's article by Shaun Oakes of UK Biometrics.

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