British Wrestle with Accuracy of Biometrics on Proposed National ID

SCANNERS used in developing a national ID card may not be up to the task of spotting Islamic terror suspects because of key technical difficulties, it was revealed yesterday. MPs declared the cards a 'farce' after Home Office minister Tony McNulty...


SCANNERS used in developing a national ID card may not be up to the task of spotting Islamic terror suspects because of key technical difficulties, it was revealed yesterday.

MPs declared the cards a 'farce' after Home Office minister Tony McNulty yesterday admitted the scanners are unable to deal reliably with such commonplace features as brown eyes and dark skin.

There could be up to 60,000 cases - one in a thousand - of wrong identity because of the technological failings.

Disabled, elderly and black people are all more likely to be identified incorrectly, the study found. A bald man with a wrinkled forehead fooled the scanners into thinking his face was upside down.

Those with eye problems can fail iris scans while manual labourers, pianists and those who type a lot suffer because their fingerprints can become worn down.

Problems could also affect identical twins, men who go bald and those who suffer disfiguring accidents.

Mr McNulty said: 'There are difficulties with the technology, not least in terms of people who have difficulties with their eyes anyway, not least with people with brown eyes rather than other coloured eyes, and all those are being factored into the equation. None of these problems are new, but increasingly as biometrics are more and more used we think the technology can only get better and better and better.' He said that because each individual biometric measure could fail, there would be 13 items of data on each card for the face, irises and ten finger and thumb prints.

But Opposition MPs called for Labour to abandon their plans. Tory home affairs spokesman Edward Garnier said: 'This ID card proposal is an expensive waste of time which will achieve nothing save a gross infringement of people's civil liberty. The sooner Gordon Brown pulls the plug on this scheme the better.' Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said: 'What kind of Government spends billions of pounds on a piece of plastic that might get your identity wrong if you're bald or have brown eyes?

'The ID Card Bill is rapidly descending into farce but the costs are still rising.' A report prepared for ministers by the consultants Amtec found that 'no biometric system can ever be 100 per cent accurate. Some face recognition techniques are exposed to instability, in particular because of some people's voluntary change of appearance, the effects of ageing and differences in illumination between environments'.

Mr McNulty admitted the Government has work to do if it is to convince MPs to back them in a key vote in the Commons tomorrow. He said: 'The arguments have shifted away from civil liberties to practicalities and costs and those are the issues we must address.'