Brown backs biometrics

Posted on February 15th, 2006

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has said the UK will use biometrics on a national scale for cross-border control, for anti-terrorist measures and to combat identity theft.

Brown, who has in the past been silent over such issues, said supermarkets and banks will use biometrics in the future and the government would follow them.

He said: ‘Today Californian supermarket shoppers are paying with a finger-scan at the checkout and Japanese cash machines are asking for a finger-scan rather than a PIN. The reason is simple: they are more secure against fraud and theft.

‘And with passports now requiring biometrics, a necessity people understand, 80 per cent of the adult population will have to register their biometrics to ensure our borders are secure and so they can travel freely across the world.’

But as part of his speech at the Royal United Services Institute yesterday, Brown cited inaccurate Home Office figures of £1.7bn as the cost of identity theft to the UK.

He also used Bill Gates’ prediction that by 2010 people will use biometrics to access computer services ‘through a fingerprint touch of a screen anywhere in the world’, to build credibility into his speech.

Brown said: ‘Already one million people have bought and use an IBM laptop which uses fingerprint recognition to control access. And for the future, manufacturers are looking at the same fingerprint recognition technology to make mobile phones and MP3 players worthless if stolen.’

Brown said 40 other countries plan to introduce biometric passports by the end of the year. ‘So the question is not whether we have a national identity register – we have had so for years – but whether we are prepared to consider the most up to date and the most secure means to protect our identity from being stolen.’

Brown added that the information commissioner could play a large part in controlling any cases of data abuse.

He said: ‘An independent commissioner should have oversight of the database and how it is used – testing it against data protection laws, ensuring individuals will have the right to see the information held on them.

‘Private companies will not be able to see the national database, nor will government departments in their routine business.’

By Dan Ilett (