Thursday, February 16, 2006

The biometric scan of the Beast


Where do you start?

In case it has escaped anyone’s attention, it is only Thursday morning and already this week we’ve seen

  • Passing of a total ban on smoking in public places
  • Passing of ID card legislation
  • Passing of a new law banning ‘glorification of terrorism
  • Chip and PIN’ became compulsory

What an absolutely superb week it has been for civil liberties in the UK.

And golly isn’t it an amazing coincidence how, less than a fortnight after the police allowed a handful of demonstrators to brandish really offensive placards in front of national television we now have a fab new law to prevent that sort of thing

Fancy that

I chucked ‘Chip and PIN’ into the list because I’m not convinced, actually I'm pretty f*cking far from being convinced, that many people realise the significance of this wonderful advance in security. Before Wednesday morning anyone with a fraudulent charge on their credit card could phone up their card issuer and demand to see a slip with their signature on or some other piece of evidence. Usually that was enough to get a bogus charge reversed.

Now, you are bottied. How can you prove that it wasn’t you who entered that four-digit code number? No paper trail means no proof. Americans who have used electronic voting machines to vote against George Bush will be familiar with the concept.

In one fell swoop the credit card issuers have transferred responsibility for credit card fraud over to the general public wholesale.

And nobody in the mainstream has so much as squeaked about it.

The inevitable consequences of ‘Chip and PIN’ dovetail nicely with the National ID Card scheme. Once a few hundred thousand people have been reamed through their inherently insecure credit cards, some bright spark will point out that a National ID Card would have prevented that.

Anyone want to take bets that this isn’t going to happen?


Has anyone really figured what this ID card thing is all about yet anyway? Even if you are for the system (why?), it is not as if it is going to work is it? Our government hardly has a stellar record for implementing new computer systems, visitors to the country won’t have to apply for one for months and the biometrics are not precise enough to avoid people registering multiple IDs anyway.

It’s going to be a disaster from start to finish and yet our government has a raging hard on for the things. No doubt there will be the usual vast quantities of corruption and ‘pork’ that accompanies all these kind of projects but there are plenty of other, less contentious, ways of sticking it to us financially.

And whilst I’m making amazing predictions of intended unintended consequences why would we need a card anyway? To be effective, the cards will need a central biometric database and biometric readers all over the place so why muck around with a card in the first place? Why not just scan people directly? Fingerprints or retina, either would be equally Biblical.

‘The National ID System – it will be a Revelation’

Yeah, I’m quite pleased with that.

And I’m having real trouble with the ‘I’ve got nothing to hide why should I have a problem with identity cards’ argument that various loons keep coming out with. Even if you discount the possibility that the next government or two down the line might be even more repressive that the current one, there’s still the issue of the role of private companies in all this.

The rise of nebulous, poorly understood companies with names like Capita and Equita and their encroachment into all areas of life has been remorseless. And they act effectively as monopolies. At the current rate pretty much everything that was once owned by ‘the people’ will be owned by these companies within five to ten years; schools, hospitals, policing, utilities, the works. There’s no reason to believe that administration and application of the ID Card system is going to be any different.

Using a relatively trivial example, take what has happened with something like the privatisation of wheel clamping and extrapolate that into every aspect of life.

That’s really fucking scary and for some reason this prospect barely registers on the scale of public consciousness.

I can remember the poll tax riots of fifteen years ago. It’s hard to believe now but rampaging mobs were stomping up and down our city centres over a change in the administration of local government taxation.

With hindsight that really does seem like small beer so I have to ask myself what the bulk of those dickheads are doing today? Watching Big Brother? Stressing about the size of their mortgage? Safely neutered in some ineffective government quango or nonsense pressure group?

Hardly anyone seems to give a stuff anymore. The fluffy intangible things in our lives, like personal liberty, are no different to the more tangible things in one key respect. If you didn’t work for them you don’t value them that much.

And if nothing else all these new repressive, stupid laws and turning over key public services to shadowy corporations demonstrates yet again that notions of the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in politics are utterly meaningless distinctions. Does anyone think that the majority of Labour MPs who are supporting this stuff are being socialist or progressive in any meaningful sense of the terms? Words like spineless and douche bag seem nearer the mark.

It really does seem like what is being planned for life in this country, and presumably much of the World, is going to happen virtually unopposed. That is going to include a deluxe model Surveillance State, with all the trimmings, privatisation of everything and perpetual war. Maybe the minority of people looking for ways to fight these changes should just pack it and do what they can to actually hasten the process. That way we can all just get it over with once and for all.

In the meantime, evening classes in applied electronics and database skills with particular emphasis on fucking things up good and proper might be a wise precaution and time well spent.

Oh dear, have I just glorified terrorism?

Only I’m not sure. I think I understand what is meant by ‘glorification of terrorism’ except for two small parts of that phrase – the glorification and terrorism bits. No doubt, present and future governments will fill in the gaps for me. Or maybe they’ll get a company like Capita to do it for them.

Anyway, before then I’m going to try and get my hands on the plans for Benny Hill’s CCTV scramblers used in the Italian Job and read up a little more on exciting new developments in buggering up RFID chips that I found about here.


Anonymous said...

good post-an eye opening blog.

Frank O'Dwyer said...

Excellent post.

Have you seen Ross Anderson's stuff on chip and PIN? Chip and sPIN? -

It is also good fun to ask an ID card proponent how retina and fingerprint scans will help to keep track of terrorists when we know they all have hooks for hands and glass eyes.

Daniel said...


Another eloquent and considered diatribe/post. Keep it up!


Gert said...

Yes, the smoke-free, database-slavery grid, ultra-free market, bellicose Big Nanny state: that's what we have to look forward to. Where fortunes are made by people who don't have a morsel of talent.

And the sheople just keep grazing...

Good post, we need more of these, really...

Ian said...

and there's bird flu to come shortly as well. You'll end up in hospital and your DNA will be filed away, incase you murder someone in the future.

Postman said...

I hope you caught the Brighton One, Walter Wolfgang on CH 4 last night exposing the New Labour thuggery.

An interesting footnote is that Ken Bodfish Labour Leader of Brighton Council, was also (like WW) an Aldermaston marcher and early CND activist - and was Chmn of the Police Committee in Sussex , now just a member , whose Police stopped under the Terrorism Act Sec. 44 over 600 people in Brighton.

Of course one of the concerns I have as dementia sets in is that I now have only one PIN code for ALL my cards. The implicit thrusting of responsibility onto the user had escaped me. Thanks.

I love the response you report to that ornament of the Bar, young Orlando. Reminds me of the lady in the Profumo case (again incipient Alzheimers robs me of the name and details) who said of a witness who denied knowledge ..." well he would say that wouldn't he".

Wolfie said...

We tuned into the ITN news last night. The most striking thing about it was that it was a veritable fear-fest; I didn't know what to be afraid of most Bird Flu, Islamic fundamentalists or David Irving. Thankfully while I was away skiing the government was busy making new legislation to make my life safer; the only question I have now is which to give up first - smoking or thinking. Hopefully there will soon be new legislation to help me with that dilemma too.

Stef said...

@frank: thanks for the chip and pin link. I hadn't seen it before

@postman: yes I did see that show. The high point was the clip of a 82 year old man being manhandled by burly bouncers and him commenting in the voiceover in a weak voice 'I was scared'

Gert said...

As regards Chip and Pin, the argument actually kind of cuts both ways. Because I never believed the signature could provide any protection against fraudulent use of my card, I always used to sign with a bogus signature, as a test. My card showed a practically illegible (worn) signature. On checking by cashiers, never once was I told the signatures didn't match, when really they never did.

Stef said...

The point about Chip and PIN is that it gives you absolutely no recourse in the case of fraud.

I take the point about the signatures but if the cashier doesn't check that's the store's fault not yours.

Bear in mind that there are some relatively simple security procedures that card issuers could have put in place ages ago but didn't.

The most obvious example that comes to mind is associating a registered email address with a card - that would reduce a sizeable slab of Internet fraud straight away.