Some Biometric technology details revealed during the Identity Cards Bill Committee Stage

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There have been some clarifications ,from Des Browne, Minster for Citizenship and Immigration at the Home Office, during the first four sessions of the Standing Committee B debates on the Identity Cards Bill, which will have an enormous impact on the feasibility, complexity, privacy, security and cost of the National Identity Register and ID Card scheme. Thanks to the extra technical complexity which the Government is piling onto the scheme, Information Technology hardware, software and consultancy suppliers could potentially make a fortune.


Theses were not included in the Draft ID Cards Bill, and it was unclear if the Government meant Digital Signatures , Public / Private Keypairs, Public Key Infrastructure etc. which would have made some sense for internet or mobile phone use of Government or Commercial services.

c.f. Schedule 1 (2) Identifying information

However, despite the existance of the Electronic Communications Act 2000 it seems that the Government is "only" thinking of digitised and/or paper based signatures.

Those people with experience of, for example, the digitised Document Image Processing of Bank Account Mandates, will recognise the extra complexity, scale and cost which the Government have, obviously without much thought, just added to the centralised IT infrastructure which will be required to run this scheme. The champagne corks must be popping throughought the Document Image processing industry, was the late addition of "signature", of which there had been no previous mention in any of the previous "consultations" or the Draft ID Card Bill, the result of commercial lobbying ?

Des Browne:

"Amendment No. 26 would remove the ability to store a signature on the register and would seriously reduce the benefits of the identity card scheme and harm its operation. Following publication of the draft Bill, signature was added explicitly to schedule 1, which deals with information that may be recorded in the register, to put beyond doubt the fact that we need to be able to record signature. There are three key reasons for that. First, most existing identity documents such as passports or driving licences incorporate a signature as standard. Secondly, the provision of a signature for ID cards also supports benefits in visual verification for organisations such as financial institutions that hold signatures in their own systems and use them as an identifier. In that sense, the signature is another identifier, in addition to biometrics. Thirdly, the provision of a signature provides a form of consent from the individual during the enrolment process, and it is appropriate that consent in that fashion be retained."

Or will more sophisticated "biometric digitised signatures" be used i.e. involving a pressure pad or PDA style touch screen and stylus, which measures the speed and or /pressure of the process of writing a signature , as well as the resultant ink on paper image ?

It is not clear if you will face a "civil penalty" if your signature changes for health reasons or out of choice.

How are digitised signatures to be checked by Government or Commercial service providers ?

If they are not going to be checked, then why bother to collect them in the first place ?

Or is the plan simply to print an image of the signature on the ID Card, which will add another 10 minutes or so to the enrolment process ?

If people rely on such a visual signtaure as evidence of identity, then why bother with the more expensive biometrics at all ?

Des Browne also claimed that any counter-signers of application forms for "designated documents" e.g. Passports would also have their signatures stored on the National Identity Register.

"Amendment No. 29 would remove the ability to hold details of counter-signatories on the register. In order to counter fraud, it will be important to be able to check whether there has been a fraudulent application. It will be possible to check all the circumstances surrounding the original application, including the details of the counter-signature, to determine whether the counter-signatory was complicit in a false application. Information about counter-signatories is currently held, for example, with passport application details."

By rejecting this amendment, which deals with data to be stored on the National identity register and/or the ID card, Des Browne presumably means this means that part or all of the application form is going to have to be digitised, exacyly as with Bank Account Mandates etc., and not something which the Passport Office does at the moment (they do digitise the phototgraphs which are submitted with Passport application forms)

Why it is necessary to clutter up the online National Identity register with paper application forms, potentially including those from other Government Agencies e.g. the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency for alleged fraud investigation purposes is a mystery. Surely in such investigations it would be necessary to examine the original paper application forms forensically to see if they have been forged or altered ? Any such forensic evidence will have been lost if the forms are digitised and then destroyed. If they are not destroyed, then why bother digitising them for this purpose in the first place ?

There is no need to try to duplicate the data and procedures of each of the agencies which issue "designated documents" into the centralised national Identity register, but that is what this flawed Identity Cards Bill seeks to do. This is a classic example of bureacratic function creep and costly duplication of systems.

View Des Browne's digitised signature - how do you know if this is genuine or is a copy ?


One of our complaints over the last 3 years or so has been that talk of "fingerprints" is a deliberately evasive if you do not specify whether you mean a single thumbprint, or all fingers and thumbs and palm prints, which is what the current criminal record fingerprint legislation allows for.

Des Browne:

"Amendment No. 152 would mean that an individual might be required, for the purposes of renewing a card under clause 9, to allow not just fingerprints and other biometric information about himself to be taken and recorded, but all his fingerprints. The hon. Member for Woking and those who support him should be satisfied that the amendment is not necessary, as we could already require any biometric that the Secretary of State thinks fit for the purposes of verifying the information placed in the register. It is our intention to use not eight but all 10 fingerprints for that purpose. That is how the biometric trial was configured, and that is what we intend for the future, for the obvious reason that that increases security."

You simply cannot fit

  • The digitised image of a "head and shoulders" photograph, to comply with the ICAO machine readable travel document standards (N.B. take a look at the size of a typical digital photgraph file from a typical digital camera - it could easily be 300 - 500 Kb on its own !)
  • The facial recognition reference point "minutiae" maps of such a "head and shoulders" photograph,
  • The digitised fingerprint reference point "minutiae" maps of 10 fingers/thumbs
  • The two iris scan codes
  • The digitised image of a pen and ink handwritten signature
  • The speed/pressure reference point "minutiae" maps of digtal pressure pad and stylus signature
  • The digitised counter-signatures on the application forms for "designated documents" e.g. Passport applications
  • Any necessary smart card internal cryptographic checksums, digital signatures, certificate revocation lists etc.
  • The as yet unspecified user submitted "free text" information which can be submitted on a voluntary basis e.g. blood group, organ donor status which will be useless in an emergency, and in theory should be available via the new National Health Service "data spine" anyway, but which many people will wish to include anyway.
  • Any or all of the other 51 Registerable Facts categories and/or transaction history (e.g. all previous names, addresses, dates of residence) which may be on the centralised National Identity Register and/or in the Smart Card electronic chip, and/or printed on the face of the Smart ID Card. Even if not all of these categories of data are rolled out initially, precious tamper resistant Smart card memory space has to be allocated to the possability of them being added in the future during the lifetime of a particular card, otherwise the costs and inconvenience of having to re-Register and re-Enrol millions of people will have to be borne - who pays for such a "technology re-fresh" ?

into the standard 16Kb or 32Kb of tamper resistant memory of standard Smart Cards which are on the market from the likes of the market leaders such as Schlumberger/Ataxo or GEMPlus or Giesecke and Devrient (none of which are British companies).

It may not even be possible to do this with 64Kb or 128Kb Smart Cards.

N.B. it does seem to be strange that Flash Memory for multimedia purposes is available cheaply in tens of Megabyte capacities, but somehow the Smart Card industry is still stuck with Kilobytes of memory, presumably this is entirely a commercial marketing decision rather than a technological one.

None of the more modern, higher capacity Smart Cards have been on the market long enough to determine their real 5 or 10 year failure rates due to "wear and tear" e.g. we have witnessed credit card Chip & PIN cards where the chip has debonded from the plastic after a few weeks of use. Astonishingly, any such failure of a UK ID Cards, under Clause 13 of the Identity Cards Bill, is your fault, not the manufacturer's, or the Government's fault, and you face a fine or prison even if you are not aware that the device is faulty (no defence of "reasonableness" or "ignorance").

This is for a single UK Passport type application. If the ID Card/Passport has to incorporate other digital "designated documents",
e.g. electronic visas or residence permits etc from other countries, then it will run into the same problems as the European Union Biometric Visa plans.

This all has huge unit cost implications, which the Government have still refused to spell out.

Questions for fellow cypherpunks:

  • Is it desirable to demand that the voluntary user submitted additional information field contains user encrypted data ?
  • Will any user free text/notes fields or operator free text/notes on the NIR or the Smart Card be used as a secret flag or subliminal channel for racial or political discrimination purposes etc.


Good points wtwu.

In regards to the technical nature of the project, it has occured to me that, once the database is fully operational, and the population is subject to compulsion to register, is there any estimate of the amount of new data that is going to be generated everyday?

For example, and i have this on pretty good authority, the goal is eventually to have us all using our fingerprints/iris scan everytime we;

Use our bank account
Spend with a credit card
Go to a hostpital, maybe the GP too
Access educational facilities, so perhaps when you Go to college or university
Claim benefits of any sort
Are stopped by police
Leave or enter the country

These are just a sample, but the jist is that the ministers behind this scheme want it used for pretty much everything - all in the name of terror and a little bit of benefit fraud.

Anyway, as you can imagine, with so much checking of identity and logging of database usage by the individual in the "audit trail", there is going to be an ENORMOUS about of reading and writing going on within the database, especially when you consider that in the end 60 million people will be using it almost everyday.

Does anyone have any information on this, or any opinion as to if it is even possible for a single database to stay functional under such a load?

I referenced this post in a blog post here:

Good job bird dogging this topic. Best,

In terms of can database and computer technology cope with such a "large" database the answer is yes e.g. there were 25 billion SMS text messages sent and received in the UK last year, and seemingly something approaching that number of email spams attacking our email accounts (or so it seemed). From a practical point of view, what appears to be a single central database will probably physically reside on multiple clusters of machines, hopefully physically remote from each other for disaster recovery purposes.

The questions are can this be done *securely* and over a very long time period i.e. not just for this financial quarter, or 5 year business plan, but for the rest of your life and beyond, possibly the next 100 years or more ?

What is "good enough" for say a bank or credit card system, which if an individual customer's data is compromised, a new "electronic identity" can be issued, and financial compensation can be paid, is *not* acceptable for a National Identity Register, based on Biometric Identifiers , which, short of major surgery, cannot be cancelled or re-issued when they are copied or faked.

The sensible way to use Biometrics in Smart Cards is to only ever have the biometrics stored and digitally signed on the Smart Card itself, and *never* on the smart card reader device or any centralised database. This enhances the security against forgery or the use of the card by other people, and would allow you to have multiple identical cards (just like a spare sets of keys) for convenience and but does not run into the horrendous security and privacy problems, and the inability to be used for internet or mobile phone transactions that the current Government scheme is inherently afflicted with.

Most Smart Cards on the market come with a manufacturer's *warranty of 5 years or less*. This has huge implications for the *cost and inconvenience of renewal* of documents such as ID cards or Passports or driving licences etc. which have a 10 year or longer validity period (e.g. the old pre-photo ID UK driving licence is valid from the age of 17 until you are 70 when you need to re-take the driving test)

does anyone know what data is stored in the new chip and pin cards.

Scott said:
"In terms of can database and computer technology cope with such a "large" database the answer is yes e.g. there were 25 billion SMS text messages sent and received in the UK last year, and seemingly something approaching that number of email spams attacking our email accounts (or so it seemed). From a practical point of view, what appears to be a single central database will probably physically reside on multiple clusters of machines, hopefully physically remote from each other for disaster recovery purposes."

Good points there.

Is the SMS and email (internet as a whole) system comparable to what the NIR is going to have to do?

Surely the two existing systems simply have to pass a message from one address on the network to another (as very simplifed as that explanation is), or something thereabouts.

The NIR is going to be verifying, as you say, VERY securely, the contents of extensive individual profiles against a scanned finger/iris, and logging the time,place,user etc of each of those checks against it.

I understood that the NIR will not literally be a "single" database, but, for the sake of it being completely up to date, the information of recent checks and changes are going to have to be spread across the network of actual servers at as close to realtime as possible.

If they don't update that fast, it could cause any number of problems for people needing to use public services, banks etc.

You also focus on the card itself, although it is not the intention of this scheme to have you actually use it - the whole plan is geared towards direct biometric verification of the individual, regardless of all the "low, middle and high" level checks the Home Office have gone on about.

As i said, some good points Scott, thanks for replying :-)

The point that you can't fit ten digitized fingerprints, two iris scans and a facial biometric onto a single chip on a card:

Des Browne is not bothered about that! He'll be quite happy to have just one fingerprint IN THE CHIP, so long as he has all ten on the database! With all ten available to the Gestapo and Inner Party members we are all suspects for every crime that's ever committed, and that's what this is all about, amongst other things. This whole scam is not about terrorism, benefit fraud etc.. but it is about control and monitoring of the individual. Unfortunately the gullible British people either don't care or don't know what the government's about.

The centralised online database of the National identity Register is the main threat to privacy. It would be perfectly possible to use biometric identifiers, even multiple biometrics which are stored only on the smart card and which have been digitally signed against tampering, and which never need to be checked against a central datbase, thereby revealing the whole pattern of your life in the audit trail.

However, that is *not* the system which is being put forward.

The reason for having a card to check your biometrics against is simply for speed. A check of your biometrics against those stored on the ID Card which you present or have with you is far speedier, by orders of magnitude than searching for fingerprints or iris scans amonst a database of 60 or 70 million (remember that you do not fall off this database even when you die).

The current mobile fingerprint technology being used by the police takes at least 3 minutes to find a match aginst the much smaller database of criminal record fingerprints.

This is quicker than than going back to the police station for such a check, but is totally impraccticable for say Passport control, you would literally being queueing up for days at a time to get through Passport contol at that rate.

Not even the biometrics security industry, with a vested commercial interest in selling the stuff, dares to makes the sort of science fiction claims that the Home Office Ministers have, for either the "unforgeability" or the speed of biometrics.

The speech made by president Bush Monday evening, live from the Oval Office, was very clear: from now on, anyone willing to go legally in the United States in order to work there will have to communicate his fingerprints while entering the country.
Many foreigners will have to subject themselves to these procedures, formerly only imposed to criminals and to spies, not to immigrants and visitors, and even less to citizens.

"A key part of that system [for verifying documents and work eligibility of aliens]
should be a new identification card for every legal foreign worker.
This card should use biometric technology,
such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof."
President W Bush (Addresses on Immigration Reform, May 15, 2006)

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Postman Patel

The 4th Bomb: Tavistock Sq Daniel's 7:7 Revelations - Daniel Obachike

OurKingdom - part of OpenDemocracy - " will discuss Britain’s nations, institutions, constitution, administration, liberties, justice, peoples and media and their principles, identity and character"

Beau Bo D'Or blog by an increasingly famous digital political cartoonist.

Between Both Worlds - "Thoughts & Ideas that Reflect the Concerns of Our Conscious Evolution" - Kingsley Dennis

Bloggerheads: The Alisher Usmanov Affair - the rich Uzbek businessman and his shyster lawyers Schillings really made a huge counterproductive error in trying to censor the blogs of Tim Ireland, of all people.

Matt Wardman political blog analysis

Henry Porter on Liberty - a leading mainstream media commentator and opinion former who is doing more than most to help preserve our freedom and liberty.

HMRC is shite - "dedicated to the taxpayers of Britain, and the employees of the HMRC, who have to endure the monumental shambles that is Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)."

Head of Legal - Carl Gardner a former legal advisor to the Government

The Landed Underclass - Voice of the Banana Republic of Great Britain

Henrik Alexandersson - Swedish blogger threatened with censorship by the Försvarets Radioanstalt (FRA), the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishement, their equivalent of the UK GCHQ or the US NSA.

World's First Fascist Democracy - blog with link to a Google map - "This map is an attempt to take a UK wide, geographical view, of both the public and the personal effect of State sponsored fear and distrust as seen through the twisted technological lens of petty officials and would be bureaucrats nationwide."

Blogoir - Charles Crawford - former UK Ambassodor to Poland etc.

No CCTV - The Campaign against CCTV

Barcode Nation - keeping two eyes on the database state.

Lords of the Blog - group blog by half a dozen or so Peers sitting in the House of Lords.

notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society - blog by Dr. David Murakami Wood, editor of the online academic journal Surveillance and Society

Justin Wylie's political blog

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

Armed and Dangerous - Sex, software, politics, and firearms. Life’s simple pleasures… - by Open Source Software advocate Eric S. Raymond.

Georgetown Security Law Brief - group blog by the Georgetown Law Center on National Security and the Law , at Georgtown University, Washington D.C, USA.

Big Brother Watch - well connected with the mainstream media, this is a campaign blog by the TaxPayersAlliance, which thankfully does not seem to have spawned Yet Another Campaign Organisation as many Civil Liberties groups had feared.

Spy on Moseley - "Sparkbrook, Springfield, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green. An MI5 Intelligence-gathering operation to spy on Muslim communities in Birmingham is taking liberties in every sense" - about 150 ANPR CCTV cameras funded by Home Office via the secretive Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) section of ACPO.

FitWatch blog - keeps an eye on the activities of some of the controversial Police Forward Intelligence Teams, who supposedly only target "known troublemakers" for photo and video surveillance, at otherwise legal, peaceful protests and demonstrations.

Other Links

Spam Huntress - The Norwegian Spam Huntress - Ann Elisabeth

Fuel Crisis Blog - Petrol over £1 per litre ! Protest !
Mayor of London Blog
London Olympics 2012 - NO !!!!

Cool Britannia


Free Gary McKinnon - UK citizen facing extradition to the USA for "hacking" over 90 US Military computer systems.

Parliament Protest - information and discussion on peaceful resistance to the arbitrary curtailment of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, in the excessive Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area around Parliament Square in London.

Brian Burnell's British / US nuclear weapons history at

RIPA Consultations

RIPA Part III consultation blog - Government access to Encrypted Information and Encryption Keys.

RIPA Part I Chapter II consultation blog - Government access and disclosure of Communications Traffic Data

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For those of you who find it convenient, there is now a Twitter feed to alert you to new Spy Blog postings.

Please bear in mind the many recent, serious security vulnerabilities which have compromised the Twitter infrastructure and many user accounts, and Twitter's inevitable plans to make money out of you somehow, probably by selling your Communications Traffic Data to commercial and government interests.

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UK Legislation

The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

UK Legislation Links

UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

UK Commissioners

UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

UK Intelligence Agencies

intelligence_gov_uk_150.gif - Cabinet Office hosted portal website to various UK Intelligence Agencies and UK Government intelligence committees and Commissioners etc.

Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protestClimate of Fear propaganda posters

MI5 Security Service
MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

syf_logo_120.gif Secure Your Ferliliser logo
Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

cpni_logo_150.gif Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

SIS MI6 careers_logo_sis.gif
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

Serious Organised Crime Agency - have cut themselves off from direct contact with the public and businesses - no phone - no email

Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

netcu_logo_150.gif National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit
National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit - keeps a watch on animal extremists, genetically modified crop protesters, peace protesters etc.
(some people think that the word salad of acronyms means that NETCU is a spoof website)

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !


Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign


Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."


Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme