Various bloggers have commented on this article in the The Independent. Unfortunately the comments mostly seem to be a bit confused or to miss the point. The article itself blurs the distinction between international standard Biometric Passports and with the centralised biometric database ID card system being proposed in the UK Identity Cards Bill
"US wants to be able to access Britons' ID cards
By Kim Sengupta
27 May 2005
The United States wants Britain's proposed identity cards to have the same microchip and technology as the ones used on American documents.
The aim of getting the same microchip is to ensure compatability in screening terrorist suspects. But it will also mean that information contained in the British cards can be accessed across the Atlantic."
The article is confusing Biometric Passports with "e-border" systems, with UK ID cards - they are not the same thing.
No doubt there are plans to simply hand over access to the UK databases to the US government, but that is a different issue.
The current US-VISIT system, cannot, for example yet check the two index fingerprints which it takes from foreign visitors withthe central FBI system which uses 10 fingers and tqo palm prints, despite over a billion dollars having been spent on it.
"Michael Chertoff, the newly appointed US Secretary for Homeland Security, has already had talks with the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, and the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, to discuss the matter."
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has nothing to do with the Home Office's Identity card scheme, but his department does have an interest in Biometric Passports and "e-border" security.
"Mr Chertoff said yesterday that it was vital to seek compatibility, holding up the example of the "video war" of 25 years ago, when VHS and Betamax were in fierce competition to win the status of industry standard for video recording systems.
"I certainly hope we have the same chip... It would be very bad if we all invested huge amounts of money in biometric systems and they didn't work with each other."
Obviously, as a US Government cabinet officer, the mere billion dollars his department has already wasted so far, on the US-VISIT system, which is estimated will cost 10 to 20 billion in the future, is not considered to be "real money".
It is worth noting what the previous US Secretary for Homeland Security, Tom Ridge is up to now in the private sector. Tom Ridge is now a director of Savi Techology" a major supplier of RFID tags and technology, who are, presumably, using his contacts to lobby hard for both the US Biometric Passport contract and, by extension all the other Biometric Passport contracts around the world.
"Hopefully, we are not going to do VHS and Betamax with our chips. I was one of the ones who bought Betamax, and that's now in the garbage," he said."
Is Chertoff displaying his appreciation of superior technology, or of his inability to foresee the development of worldwide standards ?
"However, this is the latest controversy to surround Britain's proposed combined identity card and passport due to be introduced in three years' time. Rising costs have pushed the cost up to £93 each after the overall estimated 10-year cost of the project grew from £3.1bn to £5.8 bn."
The initial Blunkett era fanstasy at the Home Office was for a magical combined Entitlement Card/ID card/Passport/Driving Licence, but this seems to have been dropped for now. The £93 "package" is the fee (including for some reason, VAT on top of this Poll Tax) for a Biometric Passport with a separate, incompatible ID Card, and the wretched Biometric Identifier
registration on the centralised database.
ICAO standard Biometric passports will not have iris scan biometrics, only, as a minimum, a diditised photo on the chip (which is not the same as Facial Recognition templates) and an optopnal second fingerprint biometric. Thee number of fingers, thumbs and palm prints (if any) are still not agreed, even just for national schemes, let alone international ones.
The UK ID card is meant to have at least 3 types of biometric identifier, Iris Scan, Fingerprint/Fingerprints and Facial Recognition. Digitised handwritten signatures, technically anothe Biometric Identifier (as opposed to cryptographic Digial Signatures)
may also be incluuded on the centralised National Identity Register.
Nobody knows yet for sure. which Biometric Identifiers exactly will actually appear in or on the UK ID Card itself, a ridiculous situation, after all the alleged consultation and planning over the last 3 years or more, and presumbaly one of the reasons why the Government is so vague about the costs of the project.
TThe US Biometric Passport will not contain any Iris Scan biometrics, but it does seem that it will contain insecure contactless RFID chips, which are vaguely mentioned in the ICAO machine readable travel document specifications. The UK Biometric Passport will presumably also follow this part of the standard, with equally disaterous potential security and privacy implications for UK citizens.
Both the US and UK and some EU governments are enaged in Policy Laundering, claiming to their own publics that the new Biometric Passports are somehow inevitable because other countries are going down this route, neglecting to mention that it is only a small minority of countries which are pressing for this in the first place, i.e. those same US, UK and some EU countries.