Biometrics or Biohazards?
Authors: John Michael Williams

Date: September 2002
Publication: Proceedings of the 2002 Workshop on New Security Paradigms NSPW '02
Page(s): 97 - 107
Publisher: ACM
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Abstract or Summary:
Biometrics as an array of deployable technologies presumes an elaborate infrastructure, including underlying science that justifies its claims of detection, classification, identification and authentication of individual human identities; particularly of those who are runaways, illegal immigrants, fugitives, criminals, terrorists, and so on.

This will now too often be literally a matter of life and death, both for the public and the individuals identified.

The "New Security Paradigm" emerges from the recognition that the the old paradigm is not securable because it is without scientific substance and/or proof for most of its claims, and composed of inherently inadequate infrastructure, technology, and implementation. Secure biometric applications can't be built from flawed components---one can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear, Irish folk wisdom reminds us. Revolution, not evolution, must be the new paradigm.

To make this case, I begin with a detailed consideration of the "the bedrock forensic identifier of the 20th century," fingerprint identification as practiced in the US, the UK and other advanced societies, for more than 100 years, and which has in many cases been used to establish with "absolute certainty" the identity of some who have paid with their lives. I will demonstrate that the US government has not met its own Supreme Court standards of scientific or technical validity for the FBI or any other fingerprint system, despite partially successful legal maneuvering (but nothing of substance) to reinforce this sine qua non of law enforcement.

I shall then enumerate by trade-name, when available, the significant failures of fingerprint-, iris-, and face-recognition systems, tested this year in Japan and Germany.

The paper concludes with comments on the "bedrock forensic identifier of the 21st century," by an expert witness, the 1993 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, and I shall close with a glimpse of the Big Picture, the dismal state of biometrics and related surveillance technology in society at large.

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