Tuesday, September 14, 2004


UKPS trial-Biometric ID card Posted by Hello

September 14 2004

The UK Passport Service (UKPS) is running a trial to test the recording and verification of the facial recognition, iris and fingerprint biometrics. I took part in the trial, and …
this is what I experienced at Globe House, 89 Eccleston Square,
London, SW1V 1PN.

It's a sunny summer afternoon and I'm sitting in the bustling main passport application waiting room in London. I'm here to enrol as one of the lucky 10,000 volunteers in the UK government's biometric ID card trial and check out the process for myself.
I was greeted in a reception area for enrolment, which consisted of filling out a form with basic information about myself such as gender, age, postcode and ethnic background.
A small side room, in the second floor, off the main waiting room contains a large booth with a curtain around it. Inside a chair sits in front of a desk with one machine that scans the iris and takes a facial biometric (Panasonic BM-ET300, http://www.raycosecurity.com/biometrics/iris.html ), and another machine that takes a fingerprint scan (Identix TouchPrint™ 3100 Live Scan, http://www.identix.com/products/pro_livescan_3100.html ). For good measure there is a screen to sign an electronic signature on.
The aim of the trial is to test the enrolment process for each of the different biometrics to see how easy they are and also test them for accuracy.
I'm ushered into the booth and took a seat in front of the camera, which sits at face height. First up is the facial recognition. I asked if I can smile, it was allowed! (http://news.com.com/E-passports+are+nothing+to+smile+about/2100-7348_3-5299928.html ).
Then I positioned my eyes so they are looking into the iris scanner. A computer voice prompt tells you to move closer or further away until you are in the right position and after some whirring and a couple of camera clicks, the iris scan is done.
The UKPS operator taking my scans says there have been none of the problems highlighted earlier this year by MPs from the Home Affairs Select Committee who claimed long eyelashes, watery eyes and eye complaints could render iris scanning useless for large numbers of the population.
She said the guides on the iris scanning machine and the computer voice prompt will ensure peoples' eyes are aligned correctly with the reader. And speaking as someone with long eyelashes I certainly didn't have any problems on the day.
Next up is the fingerprint scanner, the scanner was cleaned by the UKPS operator with a cloth. It looks much like a scaled-down version of a regular computer scanner with a glass screen. First you put your four left fingers on the screen, then the thumb, and repeat the process for the right hand.
The system enables the operator to check all the prints scanned are of a good enough quality to be used. Ones that aren't are highlighted and are simply taken again. Because all the fingers and thumbs are scanned it also isn't an issue for people with the odd digit missing.
Interestingly, The UKPS operator said that a database of one million fingerprint scans has been imported from abroad for use during the trial to ensure that there is a big enough volume to check how accurate the matching process is with the 10,000 prints taken during the trial.
After giving an electronic signature, volunteers will then be given a few minutes to fill out a questionnaire asking them about how they comfortable they felt using each of the biometrics and how intrusive they thought each was.
Less than 15 minutes after starting the biometric trial, the UKPS operator hands me my very own biometric ID card. It's only a demonstration one and can't be used anywhere but the chip on it does contain my biometrics. Volunteers then get to choose one of the biometrics so it can be tested against the card.
I opt for the iris scan. The card is put into a reader and I sit in front of the iris scanner again. A problem with the server connection means it doesn't register first time but a few seconds later I get a correct match. The process has been smooth and painless and taken quarter of an hour with all three biometrics. The UKPS is currently getting through about four people an hour.
Et voila! I had to finish my questionnaire, I was also assured that all the data collected during the trials will be completely destroyed at the end of it all.
No stats are yet available on the failure and success rates of the different biometrics but a full government report is due out later in the year after the trials finish.

As I was leaving the UKPS office, I heard a voice saying "We'll be tracking you young man …"