"By the year 2005, the face of every second adult in the UK will be stored
in a national government database."
- Daily Telegraph 22/7/97
New Labour, same old shit. This disturbing report from SchNews about the growth in CCTV technology
should be enough
to make you go out and buy a false nose and beard immediately.
the ultimate ID card?
Run to the woods!
What if SchNEWS told you that the world's most sophisticated database of
facial images was being set up in Britain...without any legislation,
parliamentary oversight or public consultation - not even a polite chat
with the Data Protection Registrar. Welcome to the ultimate I.D. card.
Last week the Home Office quietly announced that as of October next year,
photographs in all new passports will be digitised and stored
electronically. The old system of laminating a physical photo into a
passport will be replaced by a computer stored image sprayed directly onto
the passport with a laser jet. Yes, that picture of you as a goofy fifteen
year old with a manky haircut will be reliably stored forever - unless they
use the fancy new IBM software that automatically ages your mugshot!
3.5 million photo images together with related data (personal and family
details) will be stored each year on the database, resulting in the
creation within 10 years of a searchable archive of 35 to 40 million people
- even more than the conservative evidence given by the Telegraph.
The Home Office says the new passport will be quicker to process and more
resistant to tampering, but Dr James Backhouse, director of the Computer
Security Research Centre in the London School of Economics said "The mere
existence of such a large and sensitive database invites all manner of
threats. Digital images can be transmitted, analysed and matched just like
any other data. My own view is that the development of this system should
proceed with meticulous care and its planning should be subject to thorough
A spokesman for the Home Office said the system would be operated in strict
accordance with the Data Protection Act. But John Woulds, assistant Data
Protection Registrar said the project was "in a different league" to most
other databases, and his office "we've not consulted formally or informally
The Passport agency systems are linked to a number of agencies including
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and various Departments in the Home
Office. Police are given access on request.
Simon Davies of Privacy International told SchNEWS "Although the Database
will be managed by the Passport Agency it is in effect a Home Office
facility. As a law enforcement tool it will be a choice prize not just for
police, but also for security services such as MI5."
The Home Office would not comment on the potential use of this technology,
but it insisted that the new database was a necessary step to combat
passport fraud. However, neither the Home Office nor the Passport Agency
were able to provide any fraud estimates to justify the system. The Home
Office suggested that the Passport Agency "may have done some work on
this". However, the Agency is not responsible for such investigations.
Smile for the Cameras - It's CCTV Face Recognition Time
The potential to automatically match digitised passport images with photos
from existing police databases and CCTV cameras is at the head of a barrage
of privacy concerns. Several companies are well on the way to developing
such technology. Miros Inc. has developed a system that can compare, in
under a second, an image from a standard security camera with stored
The TrueFace system developed by Miros has been installed in 80 locations
around the world. It claims to have only a 0.1 percent rejection rate,
using an ordinary video camera lined to any PC.
Most automatic face recognition systems use "landmarks" on the face (eyes,
mouth etc) or a combination with "eigenfaces" which measure the difference
between light and shade. Adding or removing spectacles or facial hair makes
only marginal difference to the system's accuracy.
Already Manchester City use face recognition at their Maine Road football
ground and if Heathrow airport gets the green light for Terminal 5, they
will use automatic face recognition, technology which has been part-funded
by Marks and Spencers, the Police Foundation and British Aerospace.
Run to the Woods!
So should we be getting our knickers in a twist? Simon Davies told us,
"It's always been the wet dream of authority to link faces with data and
this will be a red letter day for them. The fraud argument is a confidence
trick as the new passports will be just as easy to forge. The only winners
will be the police, security services and anybody else - except of course
In the very near future we could see a triad working together of passport,
digitalised driving licences and banks all feeding into the same databases.
So why waste time with the political hot potato of ID cards when you can
sneak this all past the public behind closed doors.
And if that hasn't got you hiding all paranoid behind your settee then
there's always Europe. The Government is planning to join a massive "state
security" system targeting millions of European citizens as part of a new
drive to promote 'co-operation' between EU police and intelligence
agencies. The Schengen Information System (SIS) keeps information on people
regarded as a potential threat to public order. This includes 'aliens,
illegal immigrants, drug-traffickers, serious crime suspects, football
hooligans - and "meetings attended by large numbers of people from more
than one member state." These include demonstrators, anti-roads
campaigners- and of course rock music fans.
See also: The Rise of CCTV
For more info send an SAE to: Privacy International c/o SchNEWS,
PO Box 2600, Brighton, BN2 2DX, England.
UK CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)
CCTV: Does it work? (BBC Aug 2002)