UK travel database

Lots of media outlets today and yesterday reporting on the UK government’s e-Borders initiative. I’m not quite sure why particularly now: we’ve known about the e-Borders program – which is based around the new RFID-chipped passports – for some time. Of course the system involves collecting vast amounts of data, including rather more personal information than seems in any way necessary, like for example, travel companions – as if terrorists and criminals will obediently identify themselves by booking and traveling together!

For that is the justification for all this. On the website, Phil Woolas, the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration – another barrel-scraping appointment by a government that doesn’t really have many options for ministers now – said that this is is just about allowing ‘us to count all passengers in and out of the UK.’  But this isn’t just counting. What was a system derived in a combination of bowing to US demands after 9/11 and embarrassment over the government’s total inability to counter opposition criticism over immigration with any real facts has expanded its functionality (as with all of these systems) into something rather more comprehensive.

Woolas goes on to say that it ‘targets those who aren’t willing to play by our rules’ – tough talk, but it with the ever increasing numbers of trivial, silly and sometimes plain bad rules introduced by the current government, it’s hard to know what playing by the rules means anymore. This is a major problem for those who just accept all of this with a shrug and argue ‘nothing to hide nothing to fear’. I also wonder how long it will be before this database is hacked or details get left on a train or the whole thing is ‘lost’. Maybe I will start paying attention to Phil Woolas’s idea of the rules when his government starts paying attention to the European Convention on Human Rights, introduces some proper accountability and oversight for all these new surveillance initiatives as the House or Lords recommended, and stops losing our data and pandering to fear. Accountability, competence, ethics and rationality: it’s not much to ask from a government is it?

European Parliament Agrees to Biometric Passports

The European Union’s plan to introduce biometric passports (with fingerprint images) will go ahead from the end of June after the European Parliament finally agreed to the proposal. This means that all states of the EU will now have to construct new databases of fingerprints for the entire population (including the UK and Ireland who, although outside the Schengen agreement on internal borders, voluntarily follow the same passport standards).

The Parliament did manage to introduce one major ammendment which rejected the European Commission’s plan to have children under 12 years-old fingerprinted as well – although some countries already do this. However, this vote was a rubber-stamping exercise by a ineffectual body.

The unreliability of fingerprint identification, which is mentioned in this report by PC Worldremains a major issue. Having talked to European Commission people at many different events, my general opinion of them  is that, whilst well-meaning, they are seriously lacking technological expertise and knowledge of the research in the area, and generally fail to listen to those who know except where they will confirm their existing opinions. Like most governments.