Don’t forget the biometrics

Denmark issued 10,947 passports without fingerprints (Customs Today)

The different municipalities of Denmark issued flawed passports without fingerprints, stated by the Customs authority. Earlier the Customs authorities discovered the mistake and informed the affect municipalities. Passports issued from 44 municipalities after the date of February 2nd are missing biometric fingerprints due to an error made by…

I wonder how the oversight was discovered.

Australia: “Foreign fighters” bill invites debate

Opposition grows to storage of photo and biometric data (Sydney Morning Herald)

The legislation specifically clears the way for all Australians as well as foreigners to be photographed when they leave Australia and when they return if they go through automated passport gates – which are set to become far more commonly used.

The department estimates that between 40 and 60 per cent of the 35 million travellers leaving and entering Australia each year would be photographed, many millions of them Australians.

The department can also share the biometric information for “specified purposes” according to the bill’s explanatory memoranda, though it does not explain what these purposes are.

“Critics say the danger of such information being hacked is profound, given many personal electronic devices are now secured by fingerprints and iris scans.”

A couple of points that we’ve made before come to mind here.

First, if the government of Australia is incapable of keeping citizen information secure from hackers, is the biometric information of international travellers really a top-order concern? Surely, the government already secures information that is much more valuable to hackers than that.

Second, passports are interesting in that they aren’t just ID’s. They’re also an interoperability technology, a way two governments facilitate their agreement related to the treatment of civilian citizens traveling abroad. They only work unless there’s a government on both sides of the equation and any government on its site of the border can collect just about whatever information it desires as a condition of allowing a non-citizen entry into its territory.

Even if Australians reject the “foreign fighters” bill, they will still be subject to the information requested of them by the countries they visit, and that information can be shared back with Australia on a government-to-government basis.

With globalization and the lowering of cultural boundaries among the international travel set, it can seem like international travel is no big deal. Brussels is, in many ways, a lot like Washington, DC. But international travel is not without security risks to the visited country and international travelers should always be aware that their legal status outside their home country is very different than it is at home.

FBI captures long-time fugitive using facial recognition

Neil Stammer Captured Poster (Screenshot)

FBI and facial recognition catch a fugitive of 14 years (FBI)

Special Agent Russ Wilson had just been assigned the job of fugitive coordinator in our Albuquerque Division—the person responsible for helping to catch the region’s bank robbers, murderers, sex offenders, and other criminals who had fled rather than face the charges against them.

“In addition to the current fugitives, I had a stack of old cases,” Wilson said, “and Stammer’s stood out.” Working with our Office of Public Affairs, a new wanted poster for Stammer was posted on FBI.gov in hopes of generating tips.

At about the same time, a special agent with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS)—a branch of the U.S. Department of State whose mission includes protecting U.S. Embassies and maintaining the integrity of U.S. visa and passport travel documents—was testing new facial recognition software designed to uncover passport fraud. On a whim, the agent decided to use the software on FBI wanted posters. When he came upon Stammer’s poster online, a curious thing happened: Stammer’s face matched a person whose passport photo carried a different name.

Europeans, especially the French, are open minded about biometrics

Majority of Europeans support biometrics for ID cards or passports (Biometrics Update)

Specifically, 81 percent of French citizens favour the application of biometrics for ID documents, compared to 74 percent of Danish respondents and 68 percent of the survey’s British respondents. Across Europe, 69 percent were also in favour of using biometrics as a form of access control for secure areas. In this case, the French respondents proved again to be the most supportive, with 77 percent, followed by the Danes at 75 percent and the Brits at 69 percent.

More survey results including private sector biometrics at the link. The French people surveyed seem to be way more positive on biometrics than their government.

UPDATE:
See also: French shoppers give new payment method the thumbs up.

Face rec false rejects, organizational false accepts and ROI

Britain’s passport and ID service seeks facial recog tech suppliers (The Register)

The Home Office plans to spend up to £16m on facial recognition technology for the Identity and Passport Service.

A tender notice in the European Union’s Official Journal (OJEU) popped up this week that showed that Theresa May’s department was now on the hunt for providers of a Facial Recognition Engine and a Facial Recognition Workflow for the IPS.

The article then proceeds to a brief discussion of the pros and cons of the tender. The pros follow the benefits of a facial database search before issuing new photo ID documents (click for a good example). In this case the ID documents are British passports. The cons presented in the article come in two flavors, price and performance.

The money issues are common to any governmental expenditure.

The performance issue in the article that I want to address is “false reject rate.” The false reject rate of a facial recognition system in the case at hand should be taken apart and put into two categories. The first category is the performance of the core face-matching technology, the second category is the performance of the entire Home Office organization.

What constitutes a “false reject” in the core technological sense is any “match” made by the face recognition system between a submitted image and the images in the searchable database that turns out to be an incorrect/inaccurate match. In other words, “matches” that aren’t real matches are false rejects.

But in this case, the Home Office is ultimately judged, by how many bad passports it issues (false accept), not by the perfection of one mechanism in a rigorous process by which the organization arrives at its go/no-go decision. After all, if my name is John Smith and I submit my passport application to the Home Office, they will probably search their databases for “John Smith.” If they find several, does that constitute an automatic false reject? Does that mean I can’t get a passport? Of course not. Someone will look at the list of John Smith’s to see if I’m pretending to be someone else with the same name.

Here, facial recognition is used to add an image capability to go along with the search the Home Office already does with new passport applications. It is not an automated decision-making engine. Even though facial recognition systems at very large scales or in chaotic environments are very difficult to automate, they can be extremely useful investigative tools for trained users.

Humans are pretty good at matching faces with small data sets. The processes people use to identify other people with high confidence levels are extremely complex and may take into account all sorts of information that facial recognition software doesn’t. People, however, aren’t very good at identity management among large numbers of people they don’t know.

In biometrics, the software takes in a mere fraction of the information people use. It doesn’t make any inference about it, and it does its job extremely quickly by treating the problem in a way that closely resembles Nikola Tesla’s famous critique of Thomas Edison: “If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.”

When dealing with people we don’t know, humans are relegated to the needle-in-the-haystack process and unfortunately, they do it so slowly as to make it impractical with large data sets. Even if you believe that computers running facial recognition software aren’t very good at recognizing people, they’re way better at dealing with the problem of large populations than people are.

The assumption buried in the “false reject” critique for this face-rec application is that narrowing a list of 300,000 down to ten possible matches represents 9 failures. More accurately, because pre-face-rec no image-based comparison is being conducted at all, it represents 299,991 successes

When biometric software is used to sort a large population according to the probability of a match, then to present the list of top candidates to a person trained to detect fraudulent passport applications, the result is a fraud-detecting capability that did not exist before. So, even though facial recognition software by itself may have a “false reject” rate, it does not operate in a vacuum and will almost certainly help the organization as a whole reduce the inappropriate issuance of passports, i.e. its “false accept” rate

So we finally arrive where we should have been attempting to go all along — Return on Investment (ROI). ROI can be hard to calculate in security applications. It can also be hard to calculate for government expenditures, but ROI is where the rubber meets the road. The proposition does not turn on whether facial recognition can dictate to human beings whether or not to issue a passport. It can’t, and even if it could, most people would probably be uncomfortable giving up their right to appeal to a person in a decision-making capacity. Facial recognition can certainly help people make better decisions, though, and biometrics and ID are ultimately all about people.

The past and future of the American passport

The existence of the book, The Passport in America:The History of a Document (Amazon) somehow escaped my attention.

Luckily, the Boston Globe ran a short Q&A with the book’s author, Craig Robertson, today. Click on over to see his answers to the questions below.

When were Americans first required to carry passports for foreign travel?

What was the purpose of passports issued by the State Department before World War I?

Nineteenth-century passports actually featured written descriptions of their holders, correct?

So what was the reaction among the American public when photographs were introduced to passports?

In the days before birth certificates became commonplace, how did the government verify an applicant’s identity?

What future changes to the passport do you foresee?

In your research, you probably looked at hundreds of passports. Did you find a single good passport photo?

UPDATE: Face recognition passport checks available to Norwegians returning via Oslo

It’s on.

Oslo Airport initiates self-service passport control (Future Travel Experience)

First, passengers scan their passports at the entrance to the unit. When validated, the system unlocks a turnstile through which a passenger photograph is taken and compared with the photo in the passport. If the photos correspond, a second turnstile will open and the passenger is free to leave the passport control area. A border guard manually monitors the system, which records no personal passenger data.

Earlier…

MONDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2012

Face recognition passport checks available to Norwegians returning via Oslo

Self-service Passport Control is Introduced The Nordic Page (The Nordic Page) 

The technology is based on face recognition and has a two-stage operation. After passing the first gate, traveler’s face is scanned to compare with the picture on the passport. After the image match is completed, the next door is opened and the border control finishes. The process takes about 15 seconds.

This seems like a well-conceived deployment. Using the face photo in the passport document eliminates the need for a huge database of all the passport photos in the world.

Still, there are a couple of things account for.

For passports without a chip, it it is possible that clumsier fakes involving switched passport photos would pass an automated screening than would pass a human inspection. For chip-based passports, comparing the picture on the chip with the picture on the document would account for this (or make such a fake a whole lot more difficult).

There is also the question of passport chip adoption and interoperability. Not every current passport is an ePassport and not every ePassport can be read by every other country. For these reasons, the new service is only available to Norwegians.

It makes sense to move incrementally on these things and to tackle challenges a few at a time.

Face recognition passport checks available to Norwegians returning via Oslo

Self-service Passport Control is Introduced The Nordic Page (The Nordic Page)

The technology is based on face recognition and has a two-stage operation. After passing the first gate, traveler’s face is scanned to compare with the picture on the passport. After the image match is completed, the next door is opened and the border control finishes. The process takes about 15 seconds.

This seems like a well-conceived deployment. Using the face photo in the passport document eliminates the need for a huge database of all the passport photos in the world.

Still, there are a couple of things account for.

For passports without a chip, it it is possible that clumsier fakes involving switched passport photos would pass an automated screening than would pass a human inspection. For chip-based passports, comparing the picture on the chip with the picture on the document would account for this (or make such a fake a whole lot more difficult).

There is also the question of passport chip adoption and interoperability. Not every current passport is an ePassport and not every ePassport can be read by every other country. For these reasons, the new service is only available to Norwegians.

It makes sense to move incrementally on these things and to tackle challenges a few at a time.

Ghana announces steps toward fingerprint passports

Biometric Passport Project Launched (Ghana.gov)

The Biometric Passport – This passport captures a holder’s facial features especially the iris as well as biometric data of finger-prints which link the holder to the passport. The mode of application and acquisition is that the owner’s biometric data is initially covered and later verified to ensure the right ownership on delivery. Biometric data of finger-prints, eyes and hand geometry are scientifically person-specific and scarcely vary in the life time of individual human beings.

UPDATE… Ukraine: New passport law, no fingerprint for now

ORIGINALLY POSTED 29 NOVEMBER 2012. UPDATED & BUMPED.

Yanukovych signs law on biometric passports (Kyiv Post)

The document foresees the introduction of electronic passports containing electronic chips with biometric information for traveling abroad, according to standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

According to the law, the passports of Ukrainian citizens will be produced in the form of cards with contactless smart chips and issued no later than 30 calendar days from the date of the submission of a relevant application. The electronic passports will include the name of the state, the name of the document, the full name of the holder, the holder’s gender, citizenship, date of birth, and a unique number in the register, the number of the document, the date of the document’s expiry, the date of issue of the document, the name of the agency that issued the document, the place of birth, a photo and the signature of the holder.

I was going to write the post title as “Ukraine: New passport law, no biometrics for now,” but ID photos are biometrics.

UPDATE:
This press release says that the Ukraine passport will, in fact, contain fingerprints. It states, in part:

Ukraine approved the introduction of electronic IDs and creation of the state demographic register in the country. The relevant law, signed today by President Yanukovych, will take effect on January 1st, 2013. It stipulates the introduction of the documents for traveling abroad that have a built-in proximity chip with registry information on the holder. The IDs will comply with the standards recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

It will take 30 days to produce such an ID, which will hold information about name, sex, citizenship, birth date and place of residence of a person, their photo, signature, and additional biometric data, as well as issue and expiration dates. The law clarifies that digitalized signature and photograph of a person’s face constitute main biometric data, while digitalized fingerprints are additional biometric data. [emphasis mine]

Aside from buttressing the point made above about that face photos are biometrics, the release strongly hints that fingerprint biometrics will be a part of the new passport. If that’s the case, the fact was omitted from yesterday’s Kyiv Post piece. Perhaps the press release contains enough ambuguity to interpret both pieces as accurate.

We’ll keep an eye out for new information.

New Zealand investigates passport fraud with facial recognition

Checks reveal 65 false passports (The New Zealand Herald)

Of the 65 suspected false passports discovered by the DIA, 30 cases have been sent to the police national headquarters.

Of those, 21 were referred to relevant police districts for follow up. Five have been convicted, three are before the courts, two have been filed and 11 remain under investigation.

In the five cases prosecuted, eight people were convicted on a range of charges, with sentences ranging from conviction and discharge up to several months’ home detention.

When it comes to faking their passports, Kiwis don’t play.

UPDATED: Ukraine, Biometric Passports and the Politics of ID

Yanukovych: Ukraine to fulfill obligations on introduction of biometric passports (Kyiv Post)

Ukraine has had a hard time with implementing a biometric passport.

First, there are real and compelling reasons for adopting a new document standard for passports that uses a chip to hold information (including biometric information). Defense against document fraud, human trafficking and other types of organized crime spring immediately to mind.

Then there is the pressure from Europe to modernize ID documents. Because of Europe’s huge market, cultural importance and proximity to many non-EU countries, there is a lot of international travel to and from the EU. At the same time, the relative wealth of the EU countries compared to the countries with which they share land borders creates incentives for extra-legal behavior (immigration, smuggling, organized crime, etc.) that might be lowered by adopting more rigorous ID management practices.

The EU is driving its end of the bargain by harmonizing travel and ID practices within the EU (plus a few other countries; see Schengen Area) and offering visa-free travel to citizens of countries that make it easier to administer cross-border traffic through better document technology and law enforcement cooperation.

So what’s not to like?

ID documents are, of course, extremely political. They are also a source of revenue to the authorities that issue them and the companies that supply the materials, services, or the manufacturing related to them.

For the nation of Ukraine and Ukrainians who are frequent international travelers successful passport modernization would be a good deal with the state collecting fees that frequent travelers can afford to pay and who are, in turn, compensated with smoother border crossings. Ukrainians who don’t, won’t or can’t travel would be left alone.

So what’s not to like?

Ordinary Ukrainians weren’t sure about the second part and the international travelers weren’t sure about the first part.

A year ago, the deliberations on ID document modernization in Ukraine took place under a cloud of suspicion that the new document wouldn’t actually move the country to visa free travel to Europe, would cost a lot, and since Ukrainians already carry domestic passports, foreign passports, social identity cards, identity cards for insured people, pension certificates, certificates of persons with disabilities, and driving licenses, many (enough, apparently) suspected that the true impetus behind the effort was just another opportunity to collect fees and/or throw a new contract to a connected firm and they worried that the effort might not be limited to international travel documents.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych vetoed the effort of last year and the initiative seems to have been resurrected as something resembling the more optimal approach described in theory above.

It’s not a done deal yet but it looks like Ukraine is making progress.

NOTE: This post has been modified slightly from the original version to add clarity.

UPDATE:
Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy is the first deputy prime minister of Ukraine. Perhaps more relevant to our discussion here, he also used to run the State Customs Service.

His piece today in the Kyiv Post is much lengthier than other treatments of Ukraine’s regional integration efforts which tend to be very narrowly focused.

In it, he discusses in more detail many of the topics we touched on above, including:

  • Visa free regime with the EU; 
  • Biometric passports;
  • Other identity documents;
  • Human trafficking;
  • and the flip-side of organized crime, corruption.

Technology Helps Reduce Number of Fake UK Passports

Fewer fake passports being found by UK’s border force (BBC)

The number of forged passports detected at ports and airports across the UK has almost halved in the past five years.

A Freedom of Information request by the BBC showed that border officials spotted 1,858 forgeries last year compared to 3,300 in 2007.

The UK’s border force said this was partly down to improved security measures and fraud checks.

Those improved security measures now include more sophisticated technology such as biometrics. Of course, there are some who assert that fewer detections result from less looking but professional security outfits usually know their business better than that.

Detections dropped 44%. Does anyone assert that they did 44% less looking? Of course not.

Don’t Try This At Home

Sad. Now, in all likelihood, she and a large portion of her family will never be issued another US visa.

Lovelorn 21-yr-old held with fake passport in Pune (DNA India)

“Dara’s fiancée is working in New York, and she wanted to meet him. However, she was not getting a visa, due to some technical issues. Dara’s brother contacted Raju, who asked Dara and her brother to come to Mumbai and made a visa for her in the name of Mina, who is unrelated to the family yet looks similar to Dara. Once the documents were processed, Raju replaced the photo on Mina’s passport with that of Dara. The fact that Dara was using a fake passport was revealed when she underwent a biometric test in New York.”

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