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Would a National Biometric Authentication Scheme Work?

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the i-am-who-eye-am dept.

Privacy 178

Ian Lamont writes "The chair of Yale's CS department and Connecticut's former consumer protection commissioner are calling for the creation of a robust biometric authentication system on a national scale. They say the system would safeguard privacy and people's personal data far more effectively than paper-based IDs. They also reference the troubled Real ID program, saying that the debate has centered around forms of ID rather than the central issue of authentication. The authors further suggest that the debate has led to confusion between anonymity and privacy: 'Outside our homes, we have always lived in a public space where our open acts are no longer private. Anonymity has not changed that, but has provided an illusion of privacy and security. ... In public space, we engage in open acts where we have no expectation of privacy, as well as private acts that cannot take place within our homes and therefore require authenticating identity to carve a sphere of privacy.' The authors do not provide any suggestions for specific biometric technologies, nor do they discuss the role of the government in such a system. What do you think of a national or international biometrics-based authentication scheme? Is it feasible? How would it work? What safeguards need to be put in place?"

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178 comments

It would work to... (1, Interesting)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813438)

This would do a lot of things. It would a) keep tabs on anyone who was not american (potential terrorists!) b) keep tabs on problem individuals c) increase national security, because sex offenders could be tracked (and given poor service when they're trying to access govn't services. Not all are good, but not all are bad. Maybe we could just do this for category (c)? ... oh wait, they've tried tracking them. It didn't work. Why would it work on a national level?

Re:It would work to... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813542)

I think the current system is much better. We just assume that everybody is a terrorist, provide everybody with poor service and keep all the foreigners out of the country.

And it would even save a considerable amount of money because nobody would have to worry about the possibility of false positives. Anybody questioning the system is clearly not with us and as such is with "them."

Or we could try secret option D which is actually return to a sane program of national security where we focus on actual real life terrorist organizations like ELF. But I'm probably not understanding the problem because I think that many of the people in ELF might not be heathens.

Re:It would work to... (5, Insightful)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814156)

The premise of the article - or at least the blurb - is wrong. It makes the claim we "have no expectation of privacy in the public space." But we do. Ever want to take a road trip to some town where no one knows you, just to get away, do some shopping, have dinner, watch a show, without having to deal with people who know you? Ever enjoy the feeling of being out, alone, in an unfamiliar city?

How's that going to sit when the desk clerk looks you in the eye as you walk up and says, "How you doing, Mr. LeParanoid, and how's that appendectomy scar healing up? Wife happy about that diamond necklace you bought last week?"

Or gives you a steely look because you're on The Sex Offender List (because you had the temerity to have sex with someone 3 days over some arbitrary line, or perhaps you pissed in a bush somewhere) and proceeds to treat you like a criminal as soon as your RF-enabled ID gets in range of his LittleDictatorsConsole(tm)? Sure, you can add biometrics to it so he's sure you're a sex offender or other malcontent antisocial. That'd all be real good, wouldn't it? After all, in this society, onece you're a criminal, you're permanently low class, you can't make up for it.

This whole ID mania needs to go away. It is a sign of a pervasive sickness among the rulers of this society. It is not a solution, or a potential solution, to terrorism, or any other problem we face.

Re:It would work to... (2, Interesting)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814556)

Last I checked (1999 or there abouts), there were 535 members of congress, of which 29 had been accused of spousal abuse, 7 had been arrested of fraud, 19 had been accused of writing bad checks, 117 had bankrupted at least two businesses, 3 had been arrested for assault, 71 couldn't get a credit card due to bad credit, 14 had been arrested on drug-related charges, 8 had been arrested for shoplifting, 21 were defendants in then-ongoing lawsuits. In 1998 alone, 84 were stopped for drunk driving.

After all, in this society, once you're a criminal, you're permanently low class, you can't make up for it.

Sure looks to me as if we're quite happy to give people another chance.

Re:It would work to... (4, Insightful)

profplump (309017) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814884)

Authentication does not necessarily mean that those around me know who I am. Take a credit card transaction as an example -- the credit card company wants to know that I'm an authorized user of the card I hold. The merchant wants to know that my credit card company will pay them on my behalf. But the merchant doesn't have any fundamental interest* in knowing who I am -- only the credit card company does. So if I authenticate to the credit card company, and the credit card company authenticates to the merchant, we can all feel safe, and I can remain anonymous with respect to the merchant.

It's certainly possible to design the system to provide strong authentication for a variety of purposes without compromising privacy or even anonymity. Whether or not anyone will bother to do that/allow that to happen is debatable, but you shouldn't necessarily relate the ability to authenticate with an inability to provide privacy.

*I know they might like to know who I am for marketing purposes and whatnot, but they have no interest with respect to conducting a safe and reliable financial transaction.

Re:It would work to... (2, Insightful)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813578)

It would concentrate a lot of power in whoever is managing the information.
Have you looked at the response winning the latest /. poll? http://slashdot.org/pollBooth.pl?qid=1544&aid=-1 [slashdot.org]
The only possibly better response than whatcouldpossiblygowrong would be cureworsethanthedisease.
I'm confident I'd vote against any nitwit pushing such a plan.

Re:It would work to... (2, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813704)

Well aside from the philosophical apprehensions one might have about such a system, biometrics, at least in current incarnations, are poorly suited for the job. It's not that hard to imagine such a system being built on the principle of the lowest bidder. There have been numerous discussions on here about how easy it is forge a print on a poorly implemented biometric system. I'll leave you to infer the problems that would quite probably ensue.

Re:It would work to... (1)

theLOUDroom (556455) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814390)

It's even worse than that, they're fundamentally not suited for the task at hand.
A) They're not secret.
B) They're not changable.

Biometrics are at their best when someone is trying NOT to be identified as themselves.

Step 1: Get a job as a waiter.
Step 2: Fingerprint glasses.
Step 3: Profit!

The concept is appalingly stupid. It is much worse than the current system of having to show every bouncer your home address and having a number that people at least make a token effort to pretend is secret.

Re:It would work to... (4, Insightful)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813652)

This would do a lot of things. It would a) keep tabs on anyone who was not american (potential terrorists!) b) keep tabs on problem individuals c) increase national security, because sex offenders could be tracked (and given poor service when they're trying to access govn't services.

Why does all this scare me? Is it because I could be classified a 'problem individual' based on my political leanings? Is it because the Executive Branch reserves the right to pull American citizenship at will? Is it because even the Russians [wikipedia.org] know the best way to deal with a recalicrant individual, no matter what his power base, is to tar him as a sex offender?

My other question is of course, if I'm out and about, living my life in a lawful manner, why should the government care about me?. Police aren't there to arrest the lawful, they're there to arrest the criminals after commission of a crime. Where is the mandate to surveil everybody in sight waiting for them to commit a crime?

Re:It would work to... (2, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814654)

Some of the basic premises stated in the article are just plain wrong. For example:

'Outside our homes, we have always lived in a public space where our open acts are no longer private. Anonymity has not changed that, but has provided an illusion of privacy and security. ... In public space, we engage in open acts where we have no expectation of privacy

We have always enjoyed "the anonymity of the crowd." Walking down the street, minding your own business, with nobody having the right to interfere with your peacable enjoyment of your own "private space", and others, equally strangers, just doing the same.

Re:It would work to... (1)

zer0skill (940024) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813992)

Can't an American also be a terrorist? Haven't American's already caused terror on America? Everyone is a potential terrorist.

Re:It would work to... (1)

repvik (96666) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814066)

There's atleast one in the White House. The only difference is that he has more resources. "Shock and Awe" sounds like terror to me.

Re:It would work to... (3, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814670)

There's at least one in the White House. The only difference is that he has more resources. "Shock and Awe" sounds like terror to me.

Yep, Dick Cheney with a few drinks in him and a shotgun in his hand will certainly wipe that smile (and a layer of skin) off your face real quick.

I'm wondering (4, Insightful)

taustin (171655) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813444)

. . . if there's a biometric "authentication" method that hasn't been cracked in the real world in ways that would be easy for the average clever crook to duplicate for a trivial amount of money. Fingerprint scanners are trivial - Mythbusters fooled a brand new, state of the art door lock with a xerox of a fingerprint, by licking it. Retina scanners have been cracked, facial recognition software is a joke with no punch line. What else is there?

And once a system has been cracked, it is totally useless, since you can't change your "password" on biometric stuff.

Re:I'm wondering (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813500)

They have scanner that are very hard to beat but they cost way to much to be used in any widespread way.

Re:I'm wondering (4, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813734)

MythBusters did a test of several of these devices. None were particularly hard to beat, including some that were supposed to be....

Even now, the best form of authentication is a human standing there looking at your driver's license, deciding whether it is real or not, then comparing the photo. The only thing that would be significantly better and more accurate would be a system in which you would swipe a driver's license and it would contact the DMV and bring up a digital copy of that license for comparison purposes. Anything beyond that---particularly biometrics---is more likely to weaken, not strengthen security as people will tend to believe what some biometric reader device tells them over what they see with their own eyes 99 times out of 100.

Re:I'm wondering (2, Insightful)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813638)

Retina scanners haven't been hacked as far as I know. More importantly any security system that preports to be secure should check three things.
1) Something you have (a keycard, a usb key, a simple barcode scanned ID card)
2) Something you know (a strong password, the name of your first pet and the city you graduated highschool from)
3) Something you are (Your retinal scan, your infrared signature given off by your body, your dna, your face from two angles)

A system using this three step authentication process would not be easily cracked.

Re:I'm wondering (5, Insightful)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813828)

Which totally misses the point. Which is why? What problem are they trying to solve? What possible problem is worth the cost of those in power having a way to track every individual of any age anywhere in the country?

Re:I'm wondering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22814248)

Yale brought us Bush. I also have a feeling Connecticut's consumer protection enforcement suffered recently. If these sound like non-sequiturs, ask yourself what problem an invasion of Iraq was meant to solve?

Re:I'm wondering (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22814364)

What possible problem is worth the cost of those in power having a way to track every individual of any age anywhere in the country?
This is generally the wrong question to ask. Not because it's ill-founded, but because it tends to make you look crazy.

A much better question is to simply shorten it a bit: what problem is worth the cost of this system? All to often in security matters, people just wave their hand and say that any cost is worth it. But to decide if a system is worthwhile, you need to know how much it will cost and how much it will save. A system like this sounds extremely expensive, and has few benefits. Why, then, should we spend the money on it?

Re:I'm wondering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22814580)

*sigh*

Haven't you been paying attention?

-Terrorists/sex offenders/drug smugglers/illegal immigrants/criminals (Take your pick, but terrorism is still your best shot)

or

-All of the above

are perfect reasons for us, the good citizens, to give up our privacy.

Of course, over here, in the Netherlands, we've already got our brand new passports with biometric data (without them, we're not allowed to enter the US btw) which are now mandatory for all citizens of over 14 years of age and should be shown when the police has a reason to request that. Of course, the police makes such requests preferably of foreign looking people and preferably without a really good reason, so there have been a number of court cases where judges found that people didn't have to pay fines for not having and/or showing ID. The public prosecutors have mostly tried to use not having and ID as an excuse for heaping fines on people and even on the first day this legislation was in place a 14 year old girl was arrested for not being able to show ID. Minutes after New Year! Some judges take not too kindly to this, but that's small comfort if you now have to carry around something with your private data on an RFID chip that can be read by anyone from a distance, as long as they have the right equipment. Naturally, any -real- terrorist will just steal someone's identity and get a perfectly legitimate ID, or just use a foreign passport. If checked, everything will be in order. So, even if they do something, my guess is, they won't be in much trouble unless found with explosives or something. Previously, before this scheme was in place, people would just be taken to the police station and held their until their identity could be ascertained. Seems like a much better deal to me. Just stall them, and investigate a little more. Now, they'll just hand over their ID and will be cleared immediately.

So, if it's good enough for us, why not for you? Hmm? Or are you one of those commie, umm... Terrorist-loving hippies?

So, don't overthink it, it'll only get you on their list.

Re:I'm wondering (1)

penix1 (722987) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814646)

Out of curiosity, what would they do if you slapped the silly thing into a microwave for about an hour to fry the RFID chip? Or if you were to somehow remove/disable the chip if that fails?

Re:I'm wondering (2, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814406)

Something you are (Your retinal scan, your infrared signature given off by your body, your dna, your face from two angles)

"Something you are" is actually just a convoluted case of "something you have" - do you have something that makes the scanner go "approved"?

Fingerprint scanner? A xerox of a lifted print. DNA sample? See Gattaca [wikipedia.org] . Body infrared signature? Heaters in the clothes.

Biometrics are tokens that you can't revoke or replace. They're a generally bad idea.

Re:I'm wondering (1)

Molochi (555357) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813746)

My bank uses a biometric scanner to access the safety deposit boxes. You put your whole hand on it in a vulcan greeting sort of way. It seems to measure distance between finger pads. Still requires a passcode as well. Most importantly it's in a monitored location, so if my severed hand or a capacitive replica were placed on it some attention might occur. One can hope.

Re:I'm wondering (2, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814240)

And if you lose your hand in, say, a devastating chess accident, you can't get at your safety deposit box?

Re:I'm wondering (3, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813846)

Nevermind whether the scanner has been cracked. What happens if you lose your biometric password, or it gets mangled beyond recognition? I suspect they'll scan multiple parts of your body (ten fingers, 2 eyes, voice) and will accept a majority of successes as opposed to only 100% of successes. But there still will be some poor sap who lost the majority of his fingers in a wood chipper accident, and had both eyes affected due to glaucoma or retinal sunburn. Now he comes down with a cold. What's gonna happen? He won't be able to authenticate?

What worries me the most about biometric IDs is the idea that somehow, biometrics never change. I expect that there will be no process in place to change the biometrics, or that the process will be so impossible as to be the same as having no process. And if the process to change your biometric passwords is easy, why use them instead of just a regular picture ID?

This stuff might work in specific situations, where outliers are rare, and relationships between the scanners and scannees close enough to make fixes easy. But I can only see nightmares if this gets implemented on a national level.

Re:I'm wondering (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814394)

as it means any and all criminal actions that I've taken over the years will be attributed to someone else because my biometrics have and continue to change as I grow older and suffer irrepairable minor damange from that.

Re:I'm wondering (1)

yourbuddypal (1259822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814530)

Well, security is only as good as it is reliable. To create a relatively secure authentication system, you would really need to use several different authentication methods. Just because it is possible to crack one specific technique, it does not mean it is useless. If they created a system that combined some biometrics (probably fingerprints because theyre fast and "easy"), with some additional authentication (papers, passwords, etc), it could theoretically work.

It would work to... (-1, Redundant)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813466)

This would do a lot of things.
It would a) keep tabs on anyone who was not american (potential terrorists!)
b) keep tabs on problem individuals
c) increase national security, because sex offenders could be tracked (and given poor service when they're trying to access govn't services.

Not all are good, but not all are bad. Maybe we could just do this for category (c)? ... oh wait, they've tried tracking them. It didn't work. Why would it work on a national level?

sorry for the repost, I need to hit preview more often...

Re:It would work to... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813934)

I always repost those as replies to myself.

Yale CS (5, Funny)

astrashe (7452) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813468)

If history has taught us anything over the past few years, it's that putting guys from Yale in charge of things is always a great idea.

So let's let this wise man create a national biometric identification system. It sounds like a bad idea to me, but I'm just part of the rabble. I haven't had the benefit of his education and experience. I've never even been to a regatta!

Re:Yale CS (0, Offtopic)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813720)

But George W. Bush also has a Yale degree.

Re:Yale CS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22814054)

Playing the straight man is rarely funny online and is never funny when the one telling the joke is effectively playing both parts.

Re:Yale CS (1)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814316)

Because it's not a funny joke.

And for my liberal friends out there, JFK also had a Yale degree.

Re:Yale CS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22814956)

What's so great about JFK, friend?
.
.
grading

And how well would that work? (1)

allaunjsilverfox2 (882195) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813476)

The issue isn't if we need a national id system. We already have one. It's called a social security card. And as far as it goes, it works. Alot of fraud and general naughtiness, but it works. Any idea that would get implemented would work just as well as that. One reason, and one reason alone. Greed. If the system can be used by humans, it's going to be faulty.

Re:And how well would that work? (2, Insightful)

kid_oliva (899189) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813522)

The sad thing is the social security was never meant to be used as an id card. That is what a passport is for. This why our current situation is so skewed.

Re:And how well would that work? (5, Interesting)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813686)

When I was issued my Social Security card way back in the 60's, it said, in bold letters at the bottom of the card, "NOT FOR USE AS IDENTIFICATION".

That turned out well, didn't it?

Re:And how well would that work? (1)

isotope23 (210590) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814888)

"When I was issued my Social Security card way back in the 60's, it said, in bold letters at the bottom of the card, "NOT FOR USE AS IDENTIFICATION"." Back Then they didn't have room to add the word "YET" on the end...

Re:And how well would that work? (1)

alanshot (541117) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814468)

Yeah. Right. THAT prevents "hacking"... A little piece of paper that can be reproduced with off the shelf equipment and cardstock. Great job Brownie.

I am sure I can walk downtown to "little Mexico" here in Indy and get a fake one for $50 very quickly. (well I could if I could speak spanish)

Not saying the biometric system is any better or worse, just that if we are comparing it to our SSC's its no contest. At least with biometrics it takes more than some guy with The Gimp and a nice color laser to create a fake. (it takes a Geek with some really COOL toys to create a fake)

I agree with another poster. The only way this system could truly work would be an always-on connected authenticator that could pull up an official copy of the info/picture from a central DB for an immediate comparison to validate it. Otherwise its just a pretty piece of plastic that makes the ignorant/gullible sleep well at nite.

absolutelly! (3, Insightful)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813494)

Yes of course it would work!

Everyone knows that bad people are entirely willing to be completely honest, so obviously a system like this would mean we would know everything about them, and could stop all evil in the world.

Re:absolutelly! (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813780)

Why is it that you can so easily and clearly state the GLARING obvious truth of this but smart people and governments don't seem to understand it no matter how many times it is iterated to them. Perhaps instead of banning handguns in Washington DC they should ban idiots. Yes, I realize the strain that would put on voting machines, but damn!

Ask a silly question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22814366)

The biggest problem that I see is the potential for abuse by those in power. People in government know this -- that's exactly why they're in favor of it!

Private Sector (3, Insightful)

kid_oliva (899189) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813498)

It sounds interesting, but I am not for governmental control or involvement. Most here believe less government is better government. Why would we want to involve an entity that can't even balance a checkbook get its hands on something this complicated. I'm sorry but I don't see George W, Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain doing an adequate job at all except to hose it up and force regulation and compliance. Our current issues will not be solved with this. They will only take on a new twist.

pull my finger....ow... not completely off!! (1)

hildi (868839) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813508)

biometric IDs = garbage. the only 'security' is personal familiarity with your coworkers and your staff, everything else is fakable bs.

Will it work...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813512)

The difference between possible and impossible lies in determination.

Oh no, not this again. (5, Insightful)

inviolet (797804) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813558)

Biometrics is inherently flawed as an authentication system, because biometrics is a password you can't change. Once someone gets your password, or at least the numerical representation of it such as could be lifted from a compromised reader or database, you are toast. How are you going to change your retina scan to something new?

And never mind the demonstrated hackability of all but the premium readers.

Biometrics sound great at first blush, and to the common voter they seem foolproof, so this fad will get worse before it will get better. In fact, the authentication issue may have achieved the level of complexity as the net-neutrality issue, such that Joe Registered Voter cannot possibly understand it (even if he is the rare sort to spend an hour googling it before forming an opinion).

Meanwhile, text passwords plus certificates (where 'certificate' could be a smart card, or your cellphone's IMEI, or whatever) is still the answer for security. It's awful, to be sure, but it's much less awful than biometrics.

Re:Oh no, not this again. (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813764)

People continue to confuse identification with authentication.

http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=identification [princeton.edu]
http://www.google.com.au/search?hl=en&q=define%3Aauthentication [google.com.au]

Biometrics are good for identification.. they replace your "login", not your "password".

By "replace" do you mean "redundantly supplement"? (1)

roystgnr (4015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814252)

Or am I going to have to send future emails to <img src="my-correspondants-fingerprint.png">@gmail.com?

Re:Oh no, not this again. (1)

crafteh (800371) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814432)

Identification and authentication are the same in this context. You're not identified by a username until you give your password. Anybody can just wave around a username, but you're not identified (authenticated) until you have the password. Similarly, the biometrics won't identify you if people can easily fake them.

And from your sources:
identification (the act of designating or identifying something)
authentication: The process of identifying an individual

Looks pretty similar

Re:Oh no, not this again. (1)

DustyShadow (691635) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814968)

Doesn't that bring us back to the question of "why?" ?? It has already been demonstrated numerous times that the biometric IDs can be stolen with ease.

No. Nein. Nyet. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813562)

We do NOT need National IDs at all, other than passports.

Re:No. Nein. Nyet. (1)

webmaster404 (1148909) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813878)

Passports are even getting to be bad.... You now need them for every country you visit and the US government even with all of our hard earned money can't seem to get them out quickly.

Open acts not private? (3, Interesting)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813596)

Perhaps not technically 100%, but you can expect a reasonable level of privacy/anonymity in public.

This could destroy that.

Re:Open acts not private? (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814128)

You may be able to expect a reasonable level of anonymity in public, but you have no expectations of privacy. If you want privacy, you have to go to a reasonably non-public place, such as your home or a building not under surveillance; even a bathroom works to some extent, as there are laws prohibiting most monitoring of such places.

Are Fingerprints Unique (2, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813626)

The idea that every fingerprint is unique is a untestable hypothesis, since you'd have to fingerprint everyone ever born, right? We assume it's correct because we've never found examples of fingerprints that were identical.

So my question is this: if we were to fingerprint everyone in the US (all 300+ million of us)... does anyone think we might find that matching set? No one has ever done a fingerprint database of that size, right? With a quick search, I couldn't find out how many prints were in AFIS.

On the topic more directly, I'd say this would be nearly impossible. Ignoring the privacy concerns that people would use to try to stop thing going into effect... does anyone think we would be able to convince most/all of the 20 million or so illegal aliens in the US to do this? I would think you would run into the same problems in just about any other country, except somewhere like China.

Re:Are Fingerprints Unique (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813658)

Figures I'd find this after I posted. According to this page [fultonsheriff.org] , AFIS (which is international) only holds 17 million prints (1.7 million people). So a US database would be over 175x as big.

Re:Are Fingerprints Unique (1)

Bagheera (71311) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813986)

You mentioned in your own reply that you've found AFIS, with it's relatively large collection. Now, to answer your question of uniqueness being an untestable hypothesis it's not 100% provable, but it is possible to give a statistical likelyhood of finding two people with identical prints. Since as far as I know there've been no identical prints found from different people in existing databases, it's possible to safely say that the likelyhood is less than 1 in (sample size), where sample size is the total number of prints in the existing DB's. That's going to be something like 1 in 20M. While not proof, it is statistically significant.

Caveat: My statistics classes are many years behind me, and I may be over simplifying.

A couple of posters have already commented on this being a Bad Idea (tm), and I agree. It's still only one-factor authentication. Without even going into the privacy and anonymity issues, one factor authentication is a bad idea.

Cheers
Bagheera

Re:Are Fingerprints Unique (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814042)

I agree it's quite unlikely. I don't think it would happen either. Still, it would be very interesting if we were to find it. Despite the rarity not really changing the outcome, how many millions of people have been convicted through fingerprints around the world? We're pretty darn sure about this, so if it were to be disproved it would be very interesting to watch.

I agree though. I believe they are unique. If they weren't, we would probably see it in identical twins. Since we don't, that means they are probably random. To find two people sharing one print would be amazing. A combination of 2 or more would almost certainly be statistically impossible.

Re:Are Fingerprints Unique (2, Insightful)

civiltongue (830912) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814598)

You're asking the wrong question. The issue is: can fingerprints be misread (false positives or false negatives) by trained, qualified experts.

The answer is yes.

What's the real subject here? (1)

serutan (259622) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813634)

The article is about someone saying why we need one. I agree that we need a secure scheme that provides both authentication and anonymity as appropriate. Without a proposed scheme in front of us there's no way to answer the /. headline's question, "Will it work?" So stand by for a thread full of rants about privacy and big government.

Re:What's the real subject here? (2, Interesting)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814120)

we need a secure scheme that provides both authentication and anonymity as appropriate.

The question of when anonymity is going to have very different answers depending on who you ask. Most law abiding citizens would object to being ID'ed dozens of times a day as they go about their business, but for a "track the terrorist" system this is what would have to happen, and is what DHS would want. Right now it's too blatantly oppressive and logistically difficult to ID everyone who walks into the subway or drives through a toll booth, but with biometrics + cctv this becomes entirely possible. It has all the totalitarian control of "your papers, please" in an unobtrusive, easy to ignore package. There are plenty of times in daily life when it is appropriate to need to provide a secure ID, but they are always when the person being IDed is a willing active participant in the process. If simply being able to see a person is enough for them to be confirmed (and location updated) against a national database, then we all lose that bit of participation and choice. And is not the ability to be an active willing participant in the function of our government the very heart of our Democracy?

The article misses the point of anonimity (5, Insightful)

MyNameIsFred (543994) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813646)

...The debate over Real ID and sensitivity to creation of any form of national ID reveal a fear that anything that identifies us to others will intrude on privacy . This has led to a preoccupation with forms of ID rather than the fundamental question of how we can reliably identify ourselves to each other....
This quote suggests that they miss the whole point of the debate over Real ID. I would argue that the main point of the opposition to Real ID was to oppose anything that make it easier for the government to reliably ID us.

...While anonymity implies privacy, it does not confer it. We delude ourselves into thinking we have privacy if the person next to us doesn't know our name...
Again this misses the point of the Real ID debate. While making it difficult for the government to ID does not prevent them from IDing us, it helps. It also helps prevent the government from retaliating against protesters. It does not prevent it, but makes it harder. That is why protesters frequently cover their faces. That is why protesters want to make it difficult for the government to track their travels.

Even the courts have found that anonymity is important component of freedom of speech. (Along with freedom of association.).

That's what my Tbird was for. (2, Interesting)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813666)

In public space, we engage in open acts where we have no expectation of privacy, as well as private acts that cannot take place within our homes and therefore require authenticating identity to carve a sphere of privacy.
The private acts that I did in the sphere of privacy carved out by my '88 TurboCoupe did _not_ require federal authentication, thank you.

Wrong question, but here's the answer: No. (2, Interesting)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813678)

Just like in the UK, it'll work until it's cracked. Or the RFID data from passports. It is no business of the government who I am, or where I am without probable cause by a signed affidavit. There's a sufficient majority that would make sure that a national ID system is never used in the US that it's moot anyway. And for Larry Ellison and others that want to try it, they'll get laughed at, again, and just as loudly.

The question isn't unique IDs, it's tyranny. We hack tyranny first.

Big Brother is Your New Best Friend (1)

anarking (34854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813682)

So according to Yale, home of the Skull & Bones secret society that churned out the Bushes and others, if we're in public, suddenly we've lost all privacy? No matter if we're out and about in public or not, what we do is OUR act, it is a private act between us and whomever, not an act that should be monitored and "authenticated" by Big Brother at every moment. Terrorists are 1 in 50 million at best, so do you want to sacrifice 100% of your freedoms and privacy for the ILLUSION of security?

Just say no to Big Brother and the Real ID act. Or else you will find yourself at a random checkpoint soon being asked to "Show Me Your Papers, errr... Thumbs!"

The other right; the right to be left alone! (1)

jack_n_jill (642554) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813696)

I want the right to privacy!

I want the right to be anonymous!

I want the right to be left alone!

I want to be able to walk down the street anonymously. I don't want adds calling out my name like in "Minority Report". Being anonymous is not just about being on-line, it is also part of being left alone. It seems that the right to be left alone is overlooked in these discussions.

Re:The other right; the right to be left alone! (2, Funny)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814822)

I don't want adds calling out my name like in "Minority Report"
Well you're just going to have to level up, or quaff an invisibility potion, or keep your aggro down by using lower-level healing spells when you can get away with it.

Is this the making of the Ears? (1)

firex726 (1188453) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813736)

Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? ... if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.

I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you,...
-V from V for Vendetta

Re:Is this the making of the Ears? (1)

peektwice (726616) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814336)

Abso-fucking-lutely right on. WHEN society loses its right to object, to think and speak as we see fit, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
This "please-protect-me-and-my-children-from-anything-and-anyone-including-myself-even-at-the-expense-of-my-God-given-liberties-because-I'm-a-lemming" mentality must die.

I think they missed the point (1)

joeflies (529536) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813738)

They also reference the troubled Real ID program, saying that the debate has centered around forms of ID rather than the central issue of authentication. I think the issue is neither forms of ID nor authentication. People readily carry similar forms of ID and perform similar usages of authentication all the time in private enterprise.

The real issue is whether you choose want to have any one organization to own all the identification information, and if anyone truly believes it will be confined to be used only for the sole purposes as it was originally prescribed.

Microsoft found out the hard way that the public doesn't like this idea much with passport. Now the more recent technologies such as cardspace, openid, and other such frameworks talk more of how you can distribute identity among different providers or control parts of it on your own without creating the gigantic single provider of identity.

The way I feel about biometrics (2, Insightful)

edalytical (671270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813750)

I have three problems with biometrics:
  1. My biometrics are my property and I'm not giving them up.
  2. I have the right to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures".
  3. There is supposed to be a need of "probable cause".

commonly confused (5, Interesting)

perlchild (582235) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813776)

The summary talks about a common misconception, and manages to create another.

Authentication is when you identify(as in Identity) yourself, when you want to(say, to enter your home), or to get that 5% rebate at that place you like to eat at.

Anonymity is when someone else wants you to identify yourself, and you refuse.

Imputability is when someone's done something and 1) you want to Identify them properly, and 2) do something about some of the people you identify(presumably because something they did was wrong)

Anonymity is something private citizens like, in part because they don't much like imputability. That is when they do something, and it's not tied to their Identity.

Forcing someone to authenticate themselves is something the police, for one, likes, because
1) It prevents them from being blamed for mis-identifying someone
2) If they catch you doing something, and impute it once you authenticated yourself, they're fairly sure they impute it in such a way, it will follow you for a long long time(if they can impute your "identity" more on that later.

However, it has its drawbacks
1) If you authenticate yourself with falsified credentials, you get someone else blamed for your acts
2) It doesn't deal with the fact that you may be unable(damaged or lost credentials)/unwilling to identify yourself/automated systems may mis-indentify you

It doesn't solve the question of "Identity" itself either. Like when the no-fly list(falling under imputability) lists names(which can be the same for two people), leading to the same result as a falsified authentication.

Just a quick summary:

Identity: Who you are
Authentication: Proving who you are
Anonymity: Not having to say who you are
Imputability: Blaming who you are

The four are interlinked, but often confused, as in the article.

People interested in laws like RealID need to pay a lot more attention to distinctions between all four. Until the authentication part can be more more foolproof, the imputability is scary(you can be blamed for stuff you haven't done), the anonymity, well it's scary to those who'd rather deal with people they can identify(and therefore impute, think contracts to keep it in the white hat sphere). And the Identity, well that's the real problem. If you have a single, centralized database, any single mistaken Identity becomes life-altering, if not actually life-threatening(correcting someone's id with falsified credentials in order to make their lives a living hell? Yes, it can do that).

Does that bother you a little? I know it does me.

Re:commonly confused (1)

John C Peterson (1204520) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814508)

I think this gets to the crux of the issue. My reading of the article is that they are focusing on the ability of a citizen to control his identity - adding a biometric component to our current means of authentication such as a drivers license is a way to guard against being impersonated by others. I believe that their point is that fear of losing anonymity has caused us to settle for a low level of authentication. A problem with RealID is that if this system gains an underserved trust then it will be harder to fix the damage when you are impersonated by someone with a fake RealID. So a RealID that uses biometrics would be preferable to one that is easier to forge.

Whether the government should mandate / control this biometric information is a good question. The government knows my height, weight, eyecolor, and has some old photos of me at the moment. But would I want them to have a fingerprint? A DNA sample? That would be problematical. The article manages to duck the real issues here - I think that makes their argument a lot less compelling.

Oh, and you can't blame our political ills on Yale profs - it's the students who are doing all the damage. :-)

Fundamental flaw 101 (0)

armada (553343) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813778)

Biometic ID has a catastrophic fundamental flaw that is never discussed. It can not be revoked. If you loose your credit card or it is stolen it can be revoked. Your password or pin are cracked, changed. Your retina, fingerprint, vein pattern etc.. is digitally compromised. You are screwed! Period! Next!

Astroturfing for big brother (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813888)

Deceptive lies, this piece. Anonymity is not a veil for no privacy. We're just losing our anonymity in public too. Isn't new technology great?

Making ID bind harder will make identity theft hit innocent victims that much harder. Moreover, I think the cost of cleanup of a successful forgery or theft will go up much more steeply than the cost and effort required for perpetrating it.

Because biometrics makes this thing 100% secure, no? Yeah, stop laughing already. It's not funny because our benevolent overlords actually believe that crap. Don't kid yourself they don't.

I say we should use that newfangled technology to implement mutual authentication like kerberos does, except perhaps with less need for a trusted third party. It would be interesting to see if we could come up with something like that. And what happened to zero-knowledge proofs? I want my ID card to have that, dammit, not these stupid RF-broadcast-my-ID things with my fingerprints in them.

Future Plebs (0)

reddog093 (986138) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813926)

I feel like this would lead to something we tend to see in sci-fi books and movies, where a society of untagged people exist in some sort of underground world. Scary, but could be cool

If this fails (3, Insightful)

bob.appleyard (1030756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813938)

It doesn't matter how strong your security system is, it will fail. What happens when it does? I can't get a new $BodyPart if some fraudster spoofs it.

Who Watches The Watchers? (4, Insightful)

softwaredoug (1075439) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813940)

Who is to be trusted with by biometric data? Who would have access? How would the software/authentication work? Who will write the software? Is it going to be proprietary? Will it be enabled in voting machines? Why should I trust the government agency/subcontractor to do all this correctly? It seems that whoever controls this biometric data would have A LOT of power, especially if its integrated into every little device out there. Consider the potential lack of transparency in, say, an election. Could some government employee, maybe just above the average capabilities of a TSA employee, tamper with election results? Also, if my biometric info is linked to my credit card, how hard would it for that person to go on a shopping spree. How could I prove it wasn't me? The whole thing wreaks...

only as good as the security protecting it (1)

ILoveVerdi (1198339) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813962)

No identity system will remain uncracked forever. That's just the way it is these days. A better solution would be to take what we already have and improve the security so that everyone's personal information isn't at risk when a poorly-trained government employee with a laptop decides to leave it somewhere where it can get stolen.

Re-stating the obvious:MOTB (1)

starglider29a (719559) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814016)

It's so obvious that I waited to say anything... Mark of the Beast technology can fix this quandary. Roll your eyes, but read on.
  • Yes, biometrics is immutable, but added an RFID adds a mutable piece
  • Placing the RFID in the hand would allow a convenient way to get a fingerprint reader AND a chip reader to read both halves of the key.
  • Conversely, it would be tricky to hack BOTH the bio and the RFID at the same time, especially in the middle of WalMart.
  • Need retinal scan? Stick it in the forehead.
  • If your Bio/RFID pair gets hacked, change the chip, or put in a fresh one set the old one as Active=0
Two keys work for nuclear safety. Why not personal data? The scariest part is that I'm NOT being sarcastic. Geez o'Peet, that 1st Century fisherman really hit the nail on the head! (Ok, that was a little sarcastic.)

Skip the flamebait modding and tell me why this wouldn't work?

Re:Re-stating the obvious:MOTB (1)

armada (553343) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814548)

An RFID chip can be read from a distance. Reinforcing a stronger security measure with a weak one is hardly a solution. That is like saying: If they hack my uber encription then its ok because I replaced all the letters with their corresponding caesar number code below the encription.

The idea of *ANY* national ID is just plain wrong! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22814080)

The US Federal Government should not be entitled to know *ANYTHING* about you without pressing reasons.
The idea of putting everyone's information on-file is based on the hypothesis that everyone is guilty of something, and they need to be identified as quickly as possible.

Human rights are being thrown out the door more quickly every day!

People have forgotten that a police officer's job is supposed to be damn near impossible. This is to prevent innocent people from being convicted of crimes that they did not commit, and it is very effective. Any time someone is wrongly convicted, or even ACCUSED of many things, their life is utterly destroyed.

Having been the victim of crooked police officers abusing their police powers on multiple occasions, I can safely say that there are *NO* safeguards that can be put in place to keep this kind of data from being misused, because the very people it would be safeguarded to are the most likely to abuse it.

There should be no readouts of whom is where at any given moment.

The amount of CCTV footage available in major cities is absolutely criminal. Nobody should be able to patch into a system and watch your movements nearly anywhere you go. There are VERY few places where an exception to this is acceptable..and those would exclusively be at places where there are things that could be used as weapons of mass destruction. (airports.. a-la planes being crashed into buildings, nuclear power plants, military ammunition magazines.)

People have the right to live their lives without being spied on constantly!

DON'T GIVE UP THIS RIGHT! FIGHT FOR IT!

NOT centralized authentication (1)

spaceman375 (780812) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814106)

I want full control over saying yes or no that is or is not me. What is required is a three party trust system - each of the two entities in a given transaction need to have their own final aribiter, and there must be a mutually trusted third party witness. Who the third party is should be open to competition. The critical part of this is that I want MY server(s) to keep track of where I am 24/7 (not somebody else's server, including the cell phone provider I may use for this purpose). MY trusted server (ok, the service I'll pay) should have access to my current communications channels and multiple ways of verifying my physical presence. If a challenge comes in that says I'm using a credit card in Iowa when I'm in Pakistan and have no recent net connection to the company presenting that request for authentication, I should be unobtrusivly asked for verification.
Where I am 24/7 is MY business. You should be able to only ask "Are you at this place right now?" and my agents should only say yes or no after asking "Who wants to know?"

Only if it is limited that verifying who you are (1)

birrddog (1237440) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814164)

I think there is a real need for a central system to verify an individual is an individual, for instances where government documentation is required (drivers license, passport, etc.) - even cross border. The only caveat be that it not store any information about you, nor make any information other than this is Joe Smith or this is not Joe Smith or Unrecognized person available to the Entity requesting verification. It could be done in a trusted environment, where your information is sent encrypted to the central service (so the entity seeking verification does not get to see/store your personal records), and accept a boolean [or integer] response. I think credit beauros, corporations and big brother would love to know every bit of meta data they can collect about you in a central government mandated space. It's the corporations use of this information that scares the hell out of me. Not interested in having spam follow me when I change my address... or give them a profile to target their spam. Big brother is always going to have certain information on you. Fact of life. I can't tell how many times I have had to have fingerprints taken for work or visa's or other activities that require government clearance that has taken several months just to verify that I am who I claim to be. They could make it optional - i.e. use this and we know what color underwear you wear, with immediate verification when required, or don't and wait 6 months for the answer to be verified manually. That way one is incentivized, and the paranoid can remain in their misguided impression that they are off the radar. I am aware of issues with fingerprint readers, but there are basic things that can be done depending on the level or grade of surety the situation requires, anything from a smart card, to photo, iris, fingerprint or advanced fingerprint in front of a trusted agent (such as policeman or customs agent) who can verify it is your finger and you don't have someones chopped off finger in your hand. They have recently introduced a basic system at UK Airports that does this (Iris recognition). Works like a charm.

Privacy includes anonymity. (2, Insightful)

jb523 (220004) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814182)

The article is right: anonymity is not privacy and privacy is not anonymity. However, anonymity is a form of privacy and should be protected within reason.

Another way of looking at it:

privacy: people not knowing what you've done.
anonymity: people not knowing who did X.

if you lose anonymity, you lose privacy in relation to X, and where X covers everything in the public sphere, you lose all privacy except in relation to those things that are not in the public sphere (Y). That's a lot of privacy to lose.

Constitutionality (1)

bkaul01 (619795) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814232)

Whether it would work or not, the Federal Government can't constitutionally mandate it. They can mandate it for passports, or for boarding airplanes, enter federal buildings or military bases etc. But other than those limited areas, they have no authority to do so. Even the RealID system was just some additional requirements that state drivers licenses would have to meet in order to count as identification for the purposes described above. If a state chose not to abide by it, there was no penalty other than inconvenience to its citizens, and people would still have been free to choose not to get an ID or drivers license at all.

A Solution in Search of Problem (2, Insightful)

coaxial (28297) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814682)

Why is there the push for this? There isn't wide scale fraud, and there's no reason to believe that Bad Guys(tm) couldn't simply create a fake entry in a database, or that the biometric stuff would actually be used. California requires a thumbprint to get a driver's license (!), and yet you're never asked for it at a traffic stop. Why?

I have a suspicion. It's not for authentication at all. Others have already pointed out the inherent flaw in using nonrevokable certificates for authentication. (i.e. once someone has faked or corrupted your biometric data, you're fucked.) So what is a biometric data good for? The same thing that's good for when the government stores DNA sequences of everyone processed. It's a globally unique identifier. You can put multiple databases together easily. Name collisions are a thing of the past.

If you really think that government won't combine their databases, you're a fool.

Obscurity isn't security, but there is something to be said about making information, even public records, a bit harder to put together than to give a big data dump about everyone to everyone. Society has built on a certain level an anonymity existing, even when legally it doesn't exist. But it's all too obvious that people's expectations and behaviors don't always align with the letter of the law. And seriously, given the government's current cavalier attitude towards privacy and the law, do you really think that a simple law is going to stop them?

it's not about "biometric" (1)

nguy (1207026) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814694)

The problem here is with the adjective "national", which suggests that there is a centralized database, and that's a privacy nightmare. But biometric ids don't need a centralized database; they can be stored securely and in a tamper-proof way on the card itself, making sure that nobody but yourself can use your driver's license or your bank card.

So, the problem isn't really the biometric identifier itself (which is generally a good thing), it's with whether it's implemented in a centralized way or in a distributed, privacy-preserving way. Unfortunately, a lot of political forces seem to be misuing biometric ids in order to fulfill their wet dreams of totalitarian, centralized registration and tracking.

It's already upon you (sort of) (1)

nickull (943338) | more than 6 years ago | (#22814790)

At the border, I use the Nexus pass (works on retina scans). This is very efficient and violates no rights IMO between Canada and the US. Unlike the other people traveling to the USA who must get fingerprints, I feel that even if I was a criminal, I will not likely be leaving my retina imprints behind at the scene of a crime. Fingerprint and DNA Databases already exist in the US as well.

Nevertheless, The pros seem to outweigh some of the cons. Long line ups at border crossings can be avoided by allowing pre-cleared people faster portal access. Likewise, some fraud can be prevented.

There are civil liberty issues which I am aware of and this would have to be a democratic decision, made by informed residents. It would be nice if this is going to happen, that it be transparent and national vs. compartmentalized, regional and secret.

My $0.02 (CAD) worth.

D

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