Letters: Body of evidence against biometric scans

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Peter Nield, convener of education at Angus Council, says it is important that biometric technology is secure (Letters, 6 January), betraying a poor understanding of the inherent fallibility and insecurity of such systems.

All security systems depend on one or more of three components: something you have (a token); something you know (a secret); and something you are (a biometric).

It is telling that banks rely on plastic cards (tokens) and personal identification numbers (secrets) rather than customers' biometrics to authorise transactions.

Unlike tokens and secrets, biometrics cannot be revoked and re-issued after they have been compromised by fraudsters.

Biometrics are easily compromised. Fingerprints, which are most widely used, can be lifted from glasses that people have handled, from laptop computers they have touched, or from many other surfaces. Forensic scientists working for the police have demonstrated this for decades.

Researchers have shown that, once an imposter has obtained a copy of a fingerprint, biometric recognition systems can be fooled by a multitude of means: from simple photocopies and imprinted jelly sweets to the more sophisticated fake Latex finger coverings used by illegal immigrants to circumvent Japan's biometric border controls.

Biometrics are also discriminatory. In controlled laboratory trials conducted for the Home Office, it was found that 4 per cent of disabled people were unable to enrol successfully with fingerprint recognition systems.

But regardless of the limitations of biometric technology, many people feel a deep unease about fingerprinting children; teaching them that it is normal to identify themselves to the authorities at every turn. Mr Nield may be happy to carry an ID card, have his irises scanned and submit to arbitrary DNA testing, but he must recognise that his view is a minority one. This is not what we should be teaching schoolchildren about the society they live in.

(Dr) Geraint Bevan

Grovepark Gardens


Councillor Peter Nield, in his defence of the fingerprinting of children in Angus, says that "biometrics is here to stay, like it or not, so let us make the best use of the systems to improve our way of life".

It may, therefore, be puzzling to him why banks universally avoid the use of any biometrics for their electronic authorisation, but instead opt for the much simpler and considerably cheaper technical solution, the four-digit PIN.

Once he can fully understand the reasons for this he may be less inclined to take a rosy-eyed view of biometrics. Mr Nield also appears to be remarkably unaware of the dangers of identity theft and the vital need in this electronic age to be increasingly protective of people's privacy.This, therefore, rather puts him out of step with the Scottish Government's expert group and its Identity Management and Privacy Principles document, published only last month.

I fear that too many of our political representatives are dangerously naive and out of their depth with regard to both the efficacy and risks involved in using some of the newer authorisation technologies.

I would, therefore, recommend them to be much more cautious in their deliberations and much more ready to seek guidance from reputable independent experts.

(Dr) John Welford

Boat Green