E-Passport:
Doorway to the Panopticon
Part V

By Scarmig
scarmig at fastmail.fm

Part III and IV covered the details of the e-Passport, including the security measures of the physical book and the digital design of the chip. In this concluding part, I speculate, postulate, and theorize on where it’s all going and what we can do about it. You might want to have a drink handy. No not that drink, a real drink.

The Crystal Ball

This is the fun part. Speculation, rhetoric, paranoia. Love it, love it, love it.

All of this will be implemented from two directions. Scratch that, is being implemented from two directions. From one direction you will get the “justified” version: International arrivals on flights and border control. From the other side you’ll get security around social events and infrastructure. How ubiquitous is the corporate ID badge? It’ll get there too, eventually.

On the travel side you will soon see e-Passport readers on Customs agents’ desks. That’s guaranteed. Also guaranteed within the next two or three years is that you will see kiosks to check-in for flights where you put your e-Passport into the slot and it automatically takes your picture, validates, and prints your boarding pass. Most likely, your boarding pass will include your biometric data as well, so that you don’t give it away before you board the plane you naughty, naughty boy.

IATA, the International Air Travel Association, aka, the Airline Cartel, is miffed with this whole development, because they were never invited to the party. Airlines are seen as the first line of defense against international travelers criminals, and so they are expected to take on the expense of outfitting every check-in terminal and border station with e-Passport readers, e-Passport enabled kiosks, biometric boarding passes and who knows what else. This will put an even greater burden on your airline employees as they take on an ever burgeoning role as border-agents-with-a-union-paid-smile. Of course, IATA, which decides how much all airlines will charge for international travel (Can you say price-fixing? I knew you could.) will have to pay for these multi-million dollar infrastructure upgrades and angry, frustrated, impatient passengers somehow. The costs are already being reflected in the cost of the e-Passport itself, which is leaning towards a near universal doubling in price. You and I will pay for it through higher prices on the ticket and possibly service fees and aggravation and profiling. But folks who trust their government will love the faster lines and easier check-in, even if it costs them their privacy, dignity, and pocketbooks.

And where it’s implemented internationally, it’s only a hop and skip and reach-around to require it domestically, although this might be harder in the US since Real ID doesn’t conform to the e-Passport specifications. Give it time. Once there are enough e-Passports for the airlines to justify their business cases, the model will be developed and it will scale up and down to all different areas and settings.

Almost all major sports events and social gatherings will soon have real-time cameras scanning faces and matching against criminal databases. It’s been field tested and it works. The Olympics, the US Open, the Superbowl have all had successful facial recognition profiling systems in operation in the past two years.

What is really disturbing is that ICAO openly admits that the facial recognition and watch-lists are effective on their own. In fact, they recommend that countries use negative facial recognition testing as a solution to criminal border crossings. In other words, they recommend that, in the interim, while they only have criminals and not everyone in the system yet, countries simply use the system to make sure you’re not on the watch-list. This strongly suggests that, if the purpose of facial recognition is to catch criminals, the mug shots and negative testing against the watch-lists are all that is necessary. But ICAO emphatically wants everyone to move forward with positive identification of this holistic, transnational identity. All that they need is, “You are not Osama.” That’s all they need. But they want, specifically, to positively identify you, even if you don’t remotely match anyone on a watch list. Why is that, do you think?

Non-digital databases of mug shots will eventually be digitized and added to the global databases. Political rights activists may be able to slow down the adding of driver’s license and other state created photo IDs, but eventually, I bet it happens.

The technology needs some improvements (speed) but it’s only a road bump to facial recognition on the highways. On the plus side this might reduce the number of minor traffic stops to fish for criminals as the cameras will simply notify the cops which cars to chase when they get a near match. Joe American will love it because he gets surveilled more but probably hassled less, and that’s just cool with him. But that assumes your normal traffic stop is actually to fish for criminals and not just a revenue generator. (Was that a collective sigh I heard?)

In fact, so far, everyone I’ve discussed this with seems to love the idea of just scanning their passport and walking onto a plane. The efficiency it provides far, far out weighs any concerns they have over privacy or tracking, even when they are the ones to mention “Big Brother” first. Apparently Big Brother is just fine and the hash result of 2 + 2 is five.

What can you do?

To be honest, I’m not sure. They’ve covered many of the bases. There is no public recourse for this, it’s a done deal. There’s no one to punish, these aren’t elected officials. Anyone who needs or wants a passport that doesn’t reflect their day-to-day identity better already have their alias identity well-established. That is the weakest point in the system. Somehow, they have to get those initial biometrics and identities matched up. That’s the opportunity, and you only get one shot at it. Did I mention that one of the checks they do when issuing an e-Passport is to validate that no other e-Passport has been issued with matching biometrics? No double-issuance here.

Even if you get your assumed identity set up with an e-Passport, you’ll only be able to travel under that identity. It will become your holistic, transnational identity, even if it’s not the name your kids call you. Your false identity could easily eclipse the validity of your real identity, and I can only guess at the kind of craziness that could generate. I can just see a bevy of private individuals with successfully false e-Passports on the day the e-Passport and the national driver’s licenses are married together with the bank records and IRS tax rolls and the same biometric shows up on three identities and trips several dozen alarms across a thousand government and corporate databases while they fill up the tractor at the bio-diesel station that just installed a networked photo camera to comply with their insurance policy.

For myself? I came in late to the game, and my state has had digital photos on driver’s licenses for years. I can only assume I’m already compromised. So I’m going to try and stay away from airports and buy a big, floppy, sexy hat.



COPYRIGHTę 2006 Clairewolfe.com AND SCARMIG
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