Friday, May 28, 2004

"Lie detectors" and satellite tracking for sex offenders

The BBC reports that Blunkett is considering making sex offenders face compulsory "lie detector" tests and using satellite tracking of offenders.

Now making those convicted of serious offences face some extra hassle on release is not something that bothers me much.

I would hope however that the measures really do make it more difficult/less likely for convicts to reoffend before tax payers money is spent on such things.

But Blunkett's proposals show a touching faith in rather dubious technology. "Lie detectors" are nothing of the sort -- they cannot read minds, they merely measure some proxies for anxiety/stress levels such as pulse rate and sweat.

As for the satellite tracking, shreds this proposal on technical grounds:

This hand waving concept is based on as yet unproven technology, and places an absurd reliance on Global Positioning Satellite and Mobile Phone location technology.

This may eventually work for tracking offenders in the wide open spaces of the USA (but only to the nearest 200 metres or so) where there is a Federally mandated E911 emergency services location infrastructure being built, but this does not exist in the UK.

GPS tracking needs a clear view of at least 4 satellites in the sky i.e. it does not work indoors, and it does not even work in crowded urban areas, where the view is blocked by trees or buildings. Since the GPS satellite signals were never designed to be a security mechanism, they are not two way, so the receivers can be easily spoofed to provide tagged criminals with alibis for their crimes.

Mobile Phone cell location can be several miles out in accuracy, due to the quirks of radio wave propogation and reflection, as demonstrated in the notorious Soham murders case.

Surely this govt wouldn't be stooping to gimmickery, and relying on the public's ignorance of the technical problems behind the proposals, in order to be seen to be "doing something" about crime, would they?

Monday, May 24, 2004

Report on London ID cards meeting

Computer Weekly reports on the ID card meeting held last week on the 19th May. To quote from the article by Simon Moores:

Never had I seen a pillar of government policy look so demonstrably fragile and flawed. Neatly dissected by the opening arguments of the shadow home secretary and then buried alive by the experts who followed, we were offered little or no reason to believe that an identity card would be proportionate, cost effective or even capable of addressing the problems surrounding terrorism or illegal immigration.

Note that Blunkett was invited but the government did not send anyone to this meeting to defend their policy, despite the Shadow Home Secretary, Lib Dems, privacy and security experts all being there.

The article concludes:

The population has high expectations of identity cards, driven by fears over illegal immigration and terrorism. Sadly, the facts of the matter are, that given an avalanche of facts and figures to the contrary delivered by experts from all sides at the LSE’s public meeting last week, Blunkett’s ID card argument is specious and really not worth the plastic it may be printed on.

I recommend people read the whole thing.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Public meeting in Glasgow, 20th May, on ID cards

A group has been set up in Glasgow to campaign against ID cards and will hold a public meeting at 7pm, Thursday 20th May at the printworks social centre, 58 Albion Street in the Merchant City area of Glasgow, to try and get more people involved in the campaign. Further details at this website.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Public meeting, 19th May, to discuss ID cards

"Mistaken Identity" is the title of a meeting organised by Privacy International in association with Stand, Liberty, FIPR, The Register and The 1990 Trust. It will take place on Wednesday 19th May 2004, from 13.30 to 17.00. The venue is The Old Theatre, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE.

This meeting will discuss the government's proposed ID cards and includes speakers from political parties, the police, various pressure groups and experts in security and biometrics. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett MP, has been invited too. Further details are at the website linked to above. Note that attendance is free. If you are concerned about ID cards or just want to see what the fuss is about, please do attend if you can. Unfortunately I can't but I am able to publicise it. To register for the event contact