The latest on Identity Cards and Databases in the UK

A piece from New Scientist’s Back Page may help explain why iris recognition, originally touted as one of the ID Card’s biometrics, was recently dropped:

Anything that makes air travel less miserable has to be worth a try, so we jumped at the chance of registering for the fast-track Iris Recognition Immigration System, aka IRIS, being tested by the British government.

You register at the airport by looking into a camera that stores your iris pattern and passport number. Our first attempt at registering failed, however, because the official in charge of the camera at London’s Heathrow airport could not remember the PIN needed to work his machine.

A second try a few weeks later was successful. So on the way back into Heathrow after our travels we smugly left our friends in a long passport queue, went into the IRIS cubicle and looked into the camera. After many failed attempts at aligning our eyes with optical markers, the machine lost patience and told us to leave. An official appeared and said the malfunction might be down to the machine thinking our suitcase was a child being smuggled through.

As there was no one else waiting we tried again, this time holding the suitcase well clear. Again the computer said no. After a third failed attempt, the official reappeared and said spectacles must be the problem.

“But we need spectacles to see the eye markers,” we complained. By this time all our friends had long since shown their passports, sailed through and were waiting with mocking smiles on their faces.

The IRIS machine screen was now also showing a Windows message, “Symantec PC Anywhere – Unknown error”.

“Ah,” sighed the official. “We’ll have to reboot the whole thing now.”

British government electronic technology triumphs again.