Biometric passports

Having just subjected myself to having yet another terrible photo taken in order to get a new passport, I was interested to read this article in the Economist. It's come up on Bruce Schneier's radar too.

Biometrics is a "next big thing". The NZ government is, of course, working to create biometric passports to meet the US' entry requirements. That also means that if I want to go to the US without a visa, I'll probably need to upgrade my passport - yet another terrible photo. At least the camera shops will make money out of it.

Summarising The Economist
Leaving the discussion on whether or not biometric identification is a good idea in general, The Economist has three major problems with the technology:
  1. Interoperability is still a big issue.
  2. The error rate is as high as 10% on facial recognition.
  3. The data is not encrypted so anyone with a reader can access it.
None of these are major long-term problems (IMHO). Interoperability is an issue all over the world, but it's fundamentally a technical issue. The error rate will also improve over time. I think the third problem is more a red herring. Sure some terrorist could scan my passport by getting within 10 feet of me. But it's just as easy for them to steal it - they can steal my current passport already.

A lot of this is FUD - Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Sure terrorists are out there and travelling on passports - to get around this system all they need to do is apply for a passport from anywhere in the world in a false name - there must be a way. So they don't need to steal my identity.

So let's assume for a moment that we tightened up the entire worlds passport application systems, so that the only way for a terrorist to travel was to steal my identity. They need to get close to me, read the chip, load it onto their fake passport, get a photo of me and then make themselves look like me - so they should really just steal my passport - that's much easier.

How far will I go?
From an international travellers perspective, it comes down to what I am willing to give up to avoid the 2.5 hour cue at LAX? When I had my 6 month old daughter with me, it was quite a lot! I'd be happy if they had a camera on the wall with a passport scanner on it that keyed into me and my passport as I wandered past. It could even update the chip on the passport on the fly along the way. Of course then I'd lose all the cool stamps - which I don't want to give up.

I guess I'm a trusting kinda guy. I'm OK with letting Big Brother read some of my stuff, so long as I can tell him to 'naff off too.


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