UK Liberty

On using one biometric or another for identification

Posted in database state, ID Cards by ukliberty on December 10, 2008

Why is it OK to use fingerprints but not DNA?

Bob Spink: The Minister might not be aware that the Science and Technology Committee has looked at biometrics, including iris and facial recognition and fingerprints, and found no evidence from any large-scale project that using multiple biometrics in the way that the Government propose would work technologically. The Government are simply making an assumption that they would work, but there is no evidence of that. In the absence of a working biometrics system, would the Minister consider the use of DNA?

Andy Burnham: No, I would not. I do not believe that people would accept that. Even for someone often accused, as I am, of not having regard for such matters, it would raise substantial civil liberties implications. On that basis, I would rule it out categorically. As to the questions that the hon. Gentleman raises about the effectiveness of biometrics, I do not accept that that is the case. I do not know whether he has travelled to the United States recently, but it has a large-scale immigration system that uses biometric information extremely successfully. His assertion that there is no evidence of external biometrics providing a higher standard of identification in travel documents is therefore wrong. (Hansard 30 March 2006  column 1126)

I am not saying using DNA is practical, just wondering why Burnham claims the “civil liberties implications” of using DNA for border control are more “substantial” than using fingerprints, irises, or facial recognition.

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3 Responses

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  1. Finkle said, on December 10, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    I’ve no idea why Burnham might have reservations, but I would have thought that the obvious answer is that DNA is so much more that just a personalised identity token.

    I can tell a lot more about you if I have a DNA sample, than if I have your fingerprints.

    If we are to assume that the tokens would be in the form of hashed values of the source (DNA markers, fingerprint vectors etc.), then maybe the reservations are down to the difficulties of gathering the data in the first place.

  2. Watching Them, Watching Us said, on December 10, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    DNA does not just identify individuals, but also contains paternity information, and may contain information, including hereditary medical data, about your family, tribe, clan or ethnic group. .

    You share half your genes with your brother or sister, but there is no such link between the fingerprints or irises of siblings.

    Andy Burnham, when he was in charge of the National DNA Database at the Home Office, claimed that he was not in favour of a universal DNA database, but he was happy to allow speculative familial DNA searching – you are your brother’s keeper !

    The current Police scheme for taking DNA samples, not only retains the digitally processed DNA profiles (a number string on a database record), but the actual DNA cellular human tissue samples, which could fall prey to other analysis techniques in the future.

    DNA samples cannot (yet) be analysed in a few seconds or even a few minutes, unlike fingerprints or iris scans, so the technology is , at the moment, even more impractical for mass surveillance, especially where there are crowds or queues of busy people in a hurry e.g. airports.

    Professor John Daugman , the inventor of iris scans conclusively shows the mathematically that:

    ” If the two biometric tests differ significantly in their power, and each operates at its own cross-over point, then combining them gives significantly worse performance than relying solely on the stronger biometric.”

    http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~jgd1000/combine/combine.html

  3. ukliberty said, on December 10, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Fair points both. Thank you.


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