Archive for the 'Politics' Category

What value convenience in exchange for your Iris scan?

Returning to Heathrow the other day after the Net-ID conference a small group of us spilled in to the imigration hall at that ridiculous high-speed walk you only see in airports. I went as the first person in the queue to see an immigration officer with my passport and at exactly that moment, another guy entered the glass cubicle with the Iris scanning equipment. My passport was taken off me, checked and handed back in about 5 seconds. The guy in the Iris scanner took about 10 seconds. As he came through, I jovially said to him “I beat you” to which he replied “only just”…

So I thought about this. You can register your Iris, which of course means a certain loss of privacy. Once that data has been revealed past first-discolsure, the only way to think of it is that it is permanently recorded and it will, over time, be used for more and more purposes. It may end up on the police and security services databases. Although policies and procedures currently stop this from happening, do I really trust they they’ll stay cast in stone *FOREVER* (that’s an important aspect to consider when you give up key data about yourself)? Not on your nelly. That data is going to gradually find its way all over government, and stands a pretty good chance of leeching out in to the commercial sector and if that happens then clearly organised crime aslo has a possible road to it in the future.

Then I thought about the convenience. For me it couldn’t have ben simpler. For him he had to operate the iris-scan machine etc. Of course, if I’d been sat at the back of the plane, by the time I entered the immigration hall the passport queue would have ben longer and I suspect the iris queue much smaller. So I give up my privacy to get more choices at the airport. But let’s wind this story forward 5 years. By then the convenience of this method will mean many more people will have opted for it. And I get this sneaking suspicion the queues will be the same length. And as it clearly takes about the same time for an immigration official to check your passport as it does for a machine to scan your iris, the rate at which each queue will be serviced will be similar. So the only advantage I get is when I’m, let’s say maybe 20 or 30 people deep in the queue, and the iris-scan option is still not widely used. As soon as the queues are equal in length, I get no advantage from either system.

I don’t think I’ll be giving up the unique (apparently) details of my Iris to the immigration service. I think I can live with a few queus until it all evens itself out in the future. Think about online check-in and so-called “Fast Bag Drop”. When it first came out wasn’t it great? Print your boarding pass at home and go straight to the head of the queue at the fast-bag-drop point. But what’s it like now? Sometimes the fast-bag-drop has a longer queue than the standard check-in desks and there are staff shepherding folks out of the fast bag-drop in to the standard check-in desks. If you happen to be in business class you can still use the business check in desks for fast bag drop anyway – so the only advantage then becomes seat selection. Some of the cheaper economy seats don’t even give you the option of choosing your seat anyway. So these amazing conveniences gradually lose their convenience as more people take advantage of them and they start to become the norm. Online check-in doesn’t make us reveal personally identifying information (PII) about ourselves, but over time the advantages of it have ben eroded. In my book, the cost of the temporary airport convenience of iris-scan immigration is not worth the invasion of my privacy. If I give up my iris, I have no idea what laws and legislation will apply to it in the future.


Consumer = respect. Citizen = disrespect.

The big news in the UK this week around identity is that Norwich Union has received the bigest fine ever from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) for having shoddy practices in place to protect its customer data. Here – quoted from the register: Financial Services Authority (FSA) has fined Norwich Union £1.26m for failing to safeguard customers against fraud.The City regulator said it had slapped the firm’s UK life insurance biz, Norwich Union Life, with a record-breaking financial penalty because of a number of glaring system weaknesses which exposed confidential customer data to fraudsters. Security lapses in the firm’s caller identification procedures allowed fraudsters to impersonate customers by using information, including names, addresses, and telephone numbers, obtained from public sources such as Companies House.The FSA said Norwich Union Life first learned that it was the victim of organised fraud in April last year. This led to 74 life policies being falsely surrendered with funds, said to be worth a total of around £3.4m, paid out to accounts controlled by the criminals.A further 558 policies were also put at risk where fraudulent attempts had been made.Norwich Union Life had failed to assess the risks posed to its business by financial crime and also failed in its duty of care to its customers in a timely manner, said the FSA.The regulator added that by the end of July 2006, Norwich Union Life discovered that a number of current and former directors of the firm and its parent company Aviva had been hit by the fraud scam. It identified and quickly informed nine of its directors that their life policies had been targeted.The FSA said Norwich Union Life prioritised protecting the risks posed to policyholders who were Aviva directors rather than responding to the security loophole in its caller identification system that exposed its seven million strong customer base to possible fraud.A number of FSA recommendations were issued to the life insurance provider in May last year, including a suggestion that callers wanting access to their account must give their policy numbers over the phone.Norwich Union Life ignored that advice on the grounds that it would impact customer service before backing down in October 2006 when it finally implemented the changes.FSA director of enforcement Margaret Cole said the fine sent out “a clear message” that the regulator takes information security seriously.“Norwich Union Life let down its customers by not taking reasonable steps to keep their personal and financial information safe and secure.“It is vital that firms have robust systems and controls in place to make sure that customers’ details do not fall into the wrong hands. Firms must also frequently review their controls to tackle the growing threat of identity theft,” she said.Norwich Union Life apologised to its customers for the monumental security cock-up and said it had taken appropriate steps to prevent such a problem arising in the future.“Whilst the number of customers affected is very small compared to the number of policies we manage overall, any breach in customer confidentiality is clearly unacceptable.“Our customers can, however, be assured that we have taken this matter extremely seriously and have thoroughly reviewed our systems and controls as a result,” said Norwich Union Life CEO Mark Hodges.The firm has until 31 December to pay the fine to the FSA in full. Norwich Union said it will compensate all the customers affected by the frauds. ®


It’s obvious that legislation is needed to counter these sorts of problems and I think there is an acceptance among identity and security professionals that it’s now a matter of when not if it will make it on to the statute.The paradoxical thing about the legislation though is that the government itself, the very body that will introduce the legislation, will be exempt from it. The IPS (Identity and Passport Service) are saying the reason the procurement process for the National Identity Card is so “intense” is because the government won’t accept any liability for failures or information leaks. In other words, if they are careless with your data, and your life is screwed up as a result, that’s just bad luck.  The government’s reasoning is that such liability could bankrupt the UK. However all the private sector organisations will most likely be limited liability companies. I’m sure the government could include a limited liability clause of several billion pounds only for people who are materially affected by a breach. That’s the sort of thing that might demonstrate to citizens they are respected. It seems at the moment, if you are a citizen you don’t deserve respect, yet if you are a consumer you do.Well, according to the film director, Stanley Kramer – “It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world”.

UK’s Criminal Records Bureau and ID Cards trial a big success

The UK’s Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) have completed a trial with 96% of passport holders and 87% of ID Card Holders (not real ones, trial ones, the first cards won’t be issued until 2009) marking it as a great success. You can read about it here:,3800010403,39168609,00.htm?r=2

I have personal experience of the old system. I volunteered as a helper at my son’s scout troop (well beaver cubs actually) and had to undergo a CRB check before I’d be permitted to work with children. I had to fill out a form with biographical information to identify me, and put my passport number on the form. I then had to take the form along to the lady who runs the troop. It was her job to check the photograph on the form matched my face, and then, most importantly, to check that the passport number on the form, matched the one in my passport. A 2-way binding if you will. Me-to-passport via photograph. And passport-to-form via passport number. In fact, she got distracted as she flicked through it with the amount of country entry stamps  and visas in it. If you only ever do European travel, you are unlikely to ever get a stamp in your passport if you live here. So for an unseasoned traveller to a see a passport full of them was for her, unusual. Long-haul travel invariably results in a stamped passport, however she showed her naivety in this area by saying “they never stamp mine – they always just wave me through”. It distracted her enough, that I don’t believe she did a proper check that the number on my passport, matched the number on the form. A human failure. But also, her relative lack of sophistication with the whole passport scenario-thing, makes me ask myself – how bad a fake could I have passed off to her, and ended up with a clean CRB record? She clearly had so little experience in handling passports that the system is now quite riddled with holes.

 For the record, I do not have an entry on the CRB. But if I did, I could have easily circumvented the current system.

The trial involved a mixture of online and physical presence. I suspect more than anything, it is the mixture of technology (in the online environment), convenience (you can forget your identity documents, but still proceed, at home) and physical presence (you have to visit a registration agent) that makes this system a success. 

I think it can be improved by looking in particular at 2 of Kim Cameron’s laws of identity. Human Integration and COnsistent Experience across contexts. So that the user uses an online system that includes the human asa component of the system (an Identity Selector), and alsoprovides for a consistent login experience, no matter if they are loggin in to the CRB system, the IPS  service or their  favourite music download site. If the experience is ALWAYS the same when they log in, any anomaly can immediately be thought of as suspicious. This would certainly help in these cases where the consequences of getting it wrong are so dramatic.


A card for all reasons

As governments around the world rush to create national identity schemes and to roll out national identity cards I wondered about the idea of “one card in your wallet”.

I recently went on a cub-scout campng trip with my 9 year old son. After the first day’s watersports activities, when the children were all “asleep in their tents” – yeah right – and us Dads were enjoying our “Cheese and Wine Evening” (I do enjoy cub-scout euphemisms), the topic of the national identity card came up. I thought I’d conduct a small poll  of the assembled fathers – guys from all different backgrounds. A few techies like me, salespeople, insurance, air-conditioning, heavy engineering, builders, a food-designer (well, chemist really), project managers, fat, thin, small, tall, old, young, grey-on-top, hair-on-his-hair – a whole cross-section of life. I asked how many of them  would be happy to keep their wallet full of cards as it stands at the moment,  or to have it replaced by a single national identity card which would have all the necessary applications and data loaded on to it to perform the function of every card in their wallet.

Not quite unanimous, but almost total agreement with the idea that one card is better than many. But as the conversation went on, many decided to change their minds. There then followed a lot of “it depends” and “who is in charge of the system” and quite a lot of “what if I lost the card?”. A healthy debate on the trustworthiness of the government was the inevitable outcome. We split in to different camps (and as we were camping, that was right and proper). The “what about the audit trail?” camp. Dads worried about inferences the security services could make about the audit trail we leave behind us as we use the card for different reasons. Concerns that under current legislation, they have the right to lock you away for ever without trial if you are suspected. Could an innocent audit trail lead to  unfounded suspicion? Unanimous agreement that it was unlikely – but what if it did happen. to You? There was definite unease in this campabout the idea.

The other camp was the “If I’ve got nothing to hide, I don’t need to worry”. They had faith that nothing like that could ever go wrong and thateven if it did, a few innocent people are sacrificed for the greater good of the many – a small price to pay for being able to monitor people. It increases our safety.

The final camp was the “how much of my other data am I revealing to unauthorised parties when I put the card in a card reader”. They didn’t like the idea that a hacker might modify a terminal and you’d think you’re in the off-license buying a bottle of wine when in fact the reader is extracting your life from the card. The idea that you’d typed your PIN in and authorised the machine to get at your data.

There were about 30 Dads there. There were approximately 10 people in each camp. Some people were in 2 camps at the same time. But overall, the idea of a single card to do everything in your life was not thought to be a good thing. It seemed to give control to the card issuer (the government) and they were tired of the amount of control  and surveillance the government is gradually getting over our lives at the moment.

That got us on to the topic of speed cameras and CCTV cameras. An interesting observation from Dads who had had a credit card stolen and used (in the days before PINs I guess). They could tie up the time of the purchase with the location. Why were the police not interested in using in-store CCTV footage to catch the “real  criminals”, but they oh so very interested in the footage of you breaking the 60 limit on the M25… A general sense that the more “criminal” you are, the less interested in catching you the police are…

 We then planned a fantastic £multi-million bank robbery, but we were too drunk to pull it off by then. And despite the fact that the police would never be interested in investigating it because it’s not a motoring offence, it’s a criminal offence – most of the Dads declined to “do the job” because it’s illegal…

The perennial problem of the “single identifier”

I was at a dinner the other night at the Savoy (yes – it’s a tough life!) which was a fascinating combo of industry “experts” and government  “experts” on identity. A topic which governments are very fond of, raised its head. The “single identifier”. That is – the one piece of information that can uniquely and immutably identify you, from all others.

It was entertaining to watch the various reactions of the participants to this notion. The  less technically sophisticated (dare I say, the politicians!) were of the opinion that a universal system (I think they really meant a country-wide, government run system, but let’s not split hairs) couldn’t possibly work, in a technical sense, unless every citizen was issued with a unique identifier for use in all his/her interactions with government. I was almost  stunned, and perhaps simmering slightly under the surface, at how incredibly little thought they expended on understanding the various faces of the arguement.

In the UK (for that is where this Planky lives) today, if I interact with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), I use an identifier known as my Unique Tax Reference (UTR). If I interact with the Dept. of Workand Pensions (DWP), I use my National Insurance Number (NINO), and so on for each government department. Many departments share the identifiers – a lot of them use the NINO (an interesting aside – I heard, from somebody at the DWP, that the NINO is not guaranteed to be unique. I’ve had this notion confirmed by many people, but I still often wonder – is it an urban myth? Can anybody point to categorical evidence? Please leave a comment).

You see there is this big political hoo-har going on here in the UK called “transformational government”. Allied to this, you’ll often hear policymakers mention “joined up government”. That’s where I think the mind-block arose. If you give it no more than 2 minutes cursory thought, it seems logical that if you want to do a bit of joined-up-government, then you have to join all these government departments up. The thing that keeps them separate today is the way they identify their users (citizens). Each one has its own unique identifier. Solve that problem and you can do joined-up-government till the cows come home, no problem.

But what if you thought about it for more than 2 minutes?

Here’s a little test – just in case anybody happens to be reading. Give yourself 5 minutes of uninterrupted thought just thinking through that little problemette. Then post a comment on whether you think that in order to do joined up government, you need to have a single identifier for all the interactions you make with central government. If you’re already an identity expert then you just disqualified yourself from commenting.

I want to know what a non-expert thinks.