My passport finally expired and I was forced to get a new one. After much time spent meaning to fill out the form and apply for one I got around to it last weekend and incredibly my new one turned up this weekend. The first thing I noticed was that it now sports a much more up to date photo of me in it – you can see right what ten years does to you!
However, that wasn’t the most interesting thing I found about my passport. It turns out that I have one of these new-fangled biometric passports I’ve been hearing all about on the news. Apparently my photograph and the details on the photo page (my name, date of birth and so on) are written onto the chip so that you can wave the passport across a scanner and that information will just magically appear on a screen. The chip looks like this:
As an anti-fraud device it’s probably pretty good. The data is stored in an encrypted format (according to the leaflet) and can’t be written to again, so no changing the details. This means if someone steals your passport, while they may be able to put another photo on it, they won’t be able to change the details on the chip. Sounds cool.
But then I read the leaflet some more and came across the following section:
“From autumn 2006, we will interview all adults (people over 16) applying for a passport for the first time. In line with new European Union standards, we are also considering including fingerprints in biometric passports in the future.”
Now the first part is interesting as it’s likely to be an administrative nightmare and increase the time and cost of getting a passport. However, the second part unsettled me a little. If you want to live in some futuristic world where there’s no crime and everybody wears spandex, then you probably need the authorities to have everybody’s details: fingerprints, DNA samples and so on. This means that if a fingerprint is found at a crime scene, they can immediately tell who it comes from (since everybody’s prints are stored when they apply for a passport), then arrest them and freeze them in some high-tech prison facility. If you’ve got nothing to hide then you shouldn’t have a problem with it so the argument goes.
But for that the authorities would really need to have people’s best interests at heart, and as anybody who studies history knows, that is very seldom the case. All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But hey, I’ve got nothing to hide so maybe I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Until it’s too late!
This is an issue that comes up repeatedly in politcal discussions on Digg
why not let the government listen to our phone calls, monitor a bank usage, monitor our internet usage and whatever other unknowns they are monitoring. if you have nothing to hide then whats your problem, it will get rid of the big bad terrorists under the bed (or in the closet, I cant remember where I was told they were hiding)
Yeah, and there isn’t any easy answer because who polices the police? How can you really trust authorities with your data? Tricky. However none of that will still stop determined terrorists, although it might give the illusion of safety, which is probably what governments are more interested in.
It depends whether you have complete trust in your government and police and whether you think they’re infallible. I have to answer no to both questions. Governments normally have their own agendas. Tony Blair seems determined to push ID cards through in spite of the fact that the experts say the plans are deeply flawed and the majority of the British public don’t want them.
In the UK we had the Birmingham Six who spent sixteen years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. We also had the Guildford Four who spent a similar amount of time in jail even though they were innocent. That’s what happens when the police are operating in a climate like the one we have now and under pressure to achieve convictions no matter what the cost. Lives get ruined.
We’ve already seen an erosion of civil liberties in the past five years as new laws have been passed that are supposedly for our own good. Once laws are brought in that curb freedom they’re very difficult to rescind. It should be up to the state to prove a person’s guilt, not up to an individual to prove their innocence!
It really depressed me that people are willing to give up their hard-won freedoms so readily!
Yeah, I know what you mean and I shake my head whenever some terrorist blows themselves up and governments (like ours) rush through anti-terror bills that just curb our rights further and further. George Orwell must be rolling in his grave…
I updated my passport whilst in HK earlier this year for this reason, I have a 10 year passport which expires in 2016 with no biometric stuff on it, time to don the tin hat 😉
(nice passport pics BTW)
Just imagine what information they’ll want for your next passport in 2016 – retinal scan, DNA sample, sound clip of you singing karaoke, where will they draw the line?!
And those pics are proof you can never get a decent passport photo. Although with that haircut in the first one it’s no surprise!
The point here is that this is not a Blair initiative; it’s an international initiative. Fingerprint data is not definitive so cannot be solely used to convict. And it will be a cold day in hell when DNA info is stored on these little magic doo-das. I am not overly concerned.