Posts filed under ‘UK’

NZ, Aus: Limit fingerprints

Recent reports from both sides of the Tasman have once again shown public resistance to widespread fingerprinting. At least for citizens…

In NZ, following significant negative reactions from public consultation, police will only have the power to collect and store fingerprints “for the purpose of enabling the commencement of a prosecution.” Police will not be able to require fingerprints from people suspected of non-prosecutable offences, such as minor traffic infringements, or for routine identity checking.

Further, they would have to destroy those records as soon as practical once they decide not to arrest or charge a person with an offence, or if the person is acquitted.

This is quite a change from the original proposal that led to a very interesting debate about mobile scanners in Parliament.

Across the Tasman, ZDNet Australia reports that “there is a culture of resistance to fingerprinting in the community- a factor which may be holding back government from adopting the technology…Fingerprinting in Australia is not seen as an inviting technology.”

Further, CIO Magazine reports that despite a new ISO standard to provide a security framework for using biometrics for authentication of individuals in financial services (ISO 19092:2008), Australian banks are likely to restrict themselves to only exploring more use of voice verification.

As the ZDNet article points out, the Australian government continues to have a big interest in introducing biometrics. And, just as in other countries such as the UK, they want to start with non-citizens.

Not surprisingly, their choice is a group of people who have limited capacity to object.


March 3, 2008 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

UK: selling your browsing data

I would certainly be uncomfortable with my ISP selling my browsing information to a third party to serve me targeted advertising. But that’s exactly what three UK ISPs (BT, Virgin Media, and Carphone Warehouse) are planning to do.

Worse, the third party is Phorm (previously 121Media) which is run by Kent Ertugrul, a serial entrepreneur whose past ventures include PeopleOnPage, an ad network that was blacklisted as spyware by the likes of Symantec and F-Secure. Instructions to remove it as spyware are provided on several websites such as Adware.

Web users will be identified only by an anonymised number. Phorm’s service, called Webwise, doesn’t actually collect or store personal information and therefore touts itself as “setting a whole new gold standard in online privacy.”

Does it? Perhaps it looks like that on the surface but there seems to be three problems:

– First, there are precedents where similarly anonymised data has been de-anonymised.

– Secondly, there aren’t easy ways for people to opt out or even be properly informed/consulted.

– Finally, I think this represents the limitations of privacy laws in UK and other countries where the focus is on controlling collection and storage of personal information. A second aspect of privacy- spatial privacy or people having the right to control their private space that was highlighted by the Law Commission’s report– deserves equal protection but is largely ignored by the law.

In my house, the family shares the Internet connection so my ads are probably going to be: Bratz dolls, the latest SingStar release, the new Black Eyed Peas CD, compost, and dog biscuits.

February 27, 2008 at 11:31 pm 1 comment

UK: Just chip ’em

Security theatre at its best or just plain daft? Take your pick…

Thanks to Dave Kearns’ IdM Newsletter pointing me to an article about a Wales nursery, Nursery installs hi-tech fingerprint security system.

The school has introduced a fingerprint scanning system that allows only authorised parents and staff to access the nursery. Apparently, this is to reassure parents following the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. There are additional unspecified “video and audio systems.”

Why not just chip the kids and be done with it? Make the chips GPS-trackable and all those concerned parents and school authorities can be assured that their wee tots are safe. Better still, parents can locate ’em any time online. That’ll be handy as tots have a nasty habit of becoming teens.

February 20, 2008 at 11:07 pm 2 comments

UK: pleased to not be a teen

I’m thankful that my teen years are way, way behind me. Otherwise, living in UK would be a real pain, literally.

Howard Stapleton’s “Mosquito” emits an ultrasonic sound which can be heard by most kids and teenagers but the high-pitched whine is inaudible to the majority of adults over 30 due to the inevitable deterioration of hearing with age. Following successful trails in a grocery store in South Wales about two years back, there are now an estimated 3,500 deployed nationwide in the fight against young hoods.

Civil liberties outfit Liberty says the Mosquito should “Buzz off.”

Words like “the majority of adults over 30” conveniently ignores a very large number of people over 30 who can in fact hear the irritating whine. Even for the under-30s, what is the justification for assuming everyone is guilty?

Where a society is driven to take the law in its own hands and uses blunt retaliation against people based on their age, I think it points to a complete breakdown of governance and civilised society. And that is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in UK today.

On the other hand, teens being teens, some have started using the sound as their ringtone so that it is inaudible to troublesome adults like teachers. Have a look at the website and get a hearing test for free!

February 13, 2008 at 11:26 pm 3 comments

NZ: Privacy reality check

I spend a lot of my working day thinking about identity-related online services. Protection of privacy in these services is axiomatic. Not only does it make good sense to me, it’s also mandated as one of the policy principles by Cabinet.

The 2007 Privacy & Human Rights Report issued by Privacy International provides a reality check. Across the 47 countries surveyed, the Report says that, “The 2007 rankings indicate an overall worsening of privacy protection across the world, reflecting an increase in surveillance and a declining performance of privacy safeguards.”

New Zealand gets a red colour indicating “Systemic failure to uphold safeguards” as does Australia. Canada gets a yellow for “Some safeguards but weakened protections” while USA and UK get a black for being “Endemic surveillance societies.” Top of the heap is Greece but even it gets only a 3.1 rating out of 5.

The Report lists nine key aspects for New Zealand’s ranking. This seems to have prompted a leading blogger in The New Zealand Herald to call it ‘Systematic failure’ to protect our privacy who goes on to say “From biometric passports to greater sharing of information among Government departments to greater use of surveillance technology, we would certainly seem to be following the lead of countries in the black category. But privacy is a touchy issue for Kiwis and rightly so. Just listen to talkback radio whenever talk of a national ID card emerges in the media.”

According to the Report, of particular concern for NZ is:

– “Court of appeal has had some problematic decisions regarding privacy complaints” and

– “DNA database based on order from high court judge, violent crimes, and convicted burglars; though voluntary samples can be included and increasingly this is being pushed by the police, resulting in more than 80% of samples on database being given ‘voluntarily’.”

I think what’s missing from the Report is people’s perception of the state of privacy in the country being reviewed. Perceptions can be as (if not more) important than the reality.

On that front, in my opinion NZ is doing fine but, as the Report shows, things could be better.

February 4, 2008 at 11:04 pm 2 comments

UK: technology to the rescue

It is surprising to see the extent to which authorities in the UK have put their faith in technology to solve social and cultural problems. Civil liberties and the protection of privacy that generations of British citizens have fought for have, over the past few years, been rapidly sacrificed at the altar of technology. In my opinion, this faith is greatly misplaced.

Take the latest proposal which can only be described as daft.

Authorities want to chip prisoners to free up space in British jails. RFID chips injected under the skin are a first step, adding GPS for satellite tracking the next. Can someone please tell them what it’ll take to make an injected RFIP chip trackable by satellite?

Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), says “If we are prepared to track cars, why don’t we track people?” I wonder if it crossed his mind that perhaps people are different from cars. For that matter, chipping people is also different to chipping animals…

I liked the response of Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, who said, “If the Home Office doesn’t understand why implanting a chip in someone is worse than an ankle bracelet, they don’t need a human-rights lawyer; they need a common-sense bypass.”

It’s worth UK citizens asking themselves some questions. The UK has the highest prison population per capita in Western Europe. Do they really think that technology is going to solve this? When should the relentless slashing of civil liberties and privacy protection stop? Are all the security measures being put into place actually solving security problems or are they just security theatre?

January 18, 2008 at 11:44 pm 1 comment

Biometrics in the Sky

From the outside, it seems that one of the central beliefs in the US government is that if they can collect every person’s biometrics on Earth and put that into a database, then they can substantially solve all their security problems. Federal authorities have pursued this approach almost single-mindedly over the past few years.

Sometimes these efforts have been overt. A good example is the US-VISIT Program where visitors to the US have to endure lengthy delays as everyone’s fingerprints (currently both index fingers but soon all ten) and photograph are taken.

For me personally, after a 12-13 hours flight, the thought of another two hours standing in a line to get my fingers squashed by a “friendly” official so that the fingerprint reader gets an acceptable reading within a couple of attempts means that I try to avoid travelling to or via the US altogether.

In classic government doublespeak, the benefits of US-VISIT are touted as “Protects the privacy of our visitors” and “demonstrate that we remain a welcoming nation.” Yeah, right!

Sometimes the US efforts to collect the biometrics of every single human being have been more subtle. I think the current “Server in the Sky” concept falls into this category. Police from the International Information Consortium (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and NZ) will be able to exchange biometrics and personal information about criminals and suspects. New Zealand is “considering joining the consortium.”

These five countries already share intelligence amongst themselves and co-operate in running Echelon, the global eavesdropping service that can listen into telephone, radio, and email communication.

What’s subtle about this is that anything submitted for matching also gets added to the US biometrics database. And that’s another step forward in the grand plan to collect the world’s biometrics.

What’s wrong with this? Why shouldn’t we all do our bit in the fight against global terror and criminals? If you haven’t done anything wrong, surely you have nothing to fear from having your biometrics in a US database?

You do… because the central belief that collecting the world’s biometrics will substantially solve all the US’s security problems is wrong. Because the US federal authorities have not proven themselves worthy of such trust. Because the US has a long history of subsequent misuse to achieve more pressing national security concerns. Because “acceptable collateral damage” from data inaccuracies means a lot of grief for some innocent people.

January 16, 2008 at 9:02 pm Leave a comment

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