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Another French Connection, biometric ID problems

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Carte de D'Identite
Carte de D'Identite

Our recent story on the new compulsory French National ID Card was hardly cold before the predicted shock waves began to strike. It now appears that the mother of all Franco databases will not be accessible to the police or judiciary. We remind the reader that this massive data base, affectionately known as the "honest folk" protection act was proposed to prevent identity fraud. Hardly out of the blocks, the French Conseil Constitutionnel has decreed that security of the data could not be guaranteed and offered more risk than reward. "We told you so" is so gauche, and yet we did, n'est-ce pas?

 From EFF: The argument for biometrics is predicated on the flawed assumption that a national biometric ID scheme will prevent identity fraud. Massive databases already invite security breaches and a biometrics database of this scale is a honeypot of sensitive data vulnerable to exploitation. In Israel for example, the security protecting the database holding more than 9 million IDs was cracked and everyone’s biometrics were made available on the Internet. Such a data breach is not just costly—it is irreversible, you cannot change your fingerprints or your irises. Recently the UC Berkeley School of Law conducted an in-depth analysis of the costs of establishing a biometric employment identity card in the United States. They found that such a program would cost an upwards of "$40 billion in initial costs, but also $3 billion in ongoing annual expenditures." They also concluded that such a program's lack of proven effectiveness and its high risk of error would lead to "a Pandora’s box of civil liberty violations."

Some enthusiastic reporters seem to gush over the possibilities of such technologies. Would anyone be surprised to learn how enthusiastic the companies are that would sell and maintain such systems?

From SACBEE:  While offering several benefits, slow return on investment (ROI) and high initial investment costs are the main restraints to the widespread uptake of biometric technologies. Projects related to universal census or the issuance of eIDs might result in extremely high costs due to sheer volumes. Another crucial aspect restraining the adoption of biometrics are concerns related to privacy as well as lengthy sales cycles in governments. "While the ROI may not be visible at the very outset, nevertheless, once the technology is in place, faster verification and portable devices will decrease the amount of travel required, which will be beneficial in the long-run," remarks Rutkowski. "Privacy is the main hindrance in biometric government programmes; detractors believe that this type of identity verification can be offensive, distasteful, invasive, or simply embarrassing

The Original Decision in French

From conseil-constitutionnel: In case you read French, here's the (bottom line) decision in so many words (note that former French President Valerie Giscard d'Estaing is on the panel of judges):

D É C I D E :

Article 1er.- Sont déclarées contraires à la Constitution les dispositions suivantes de la loi relative à la protection de l'identité :

- les articles 3, 5, 7 et 10 ;
- le troisième alinéa de l'article 6 ;
- la seconde phrase de l'article 8.

Article 2.- La présente décision sera publiée au Journal officiel de la République française.

Délibéré par le Conseil constitutionnel dans sa séance du 22 mars 2012, où siégeaient : M. Jean-Louis DEBRÉ, Président, M. Jacques BARROT, Mme Claire BAZY MALAURIE, MM. Guy CANIVET, Michel CHARASSE, Renaud DENOIX de SAINT MARC, Valéry GISCARD d'ESTAING, Mme Jacqueline de GUILLENCHMIDT, MM. Hubert HAENEL et Pierre STEINMETZ.

Last modified on Friday, 06 April 2012 15:38

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