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Mr David Moss





Our reference NBIS DJWOI0/09


Date: 20 March 2009

Dear Mr Moss



Thank you for your letter to Sir Michael [Sir Michael Scholar, Chair, UK Statistics Authority], which has been passed to me.

I can agree that biometric determinations of identity are probabilistic, in the sense that any determination of identity has a finite error rate associated with it. I can however assure you that the Government and the Civil Service is well aware of this fact. As an example, you may be aware of the following submission to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology made in 2006:

“The matching of newly enrolled biometrics against all those already enrolled may not be 100% reliable, raising the risk that a very small number of people may be able to enrol more than once without authorisation.”

The issue however is not one of whether biometrics is probabilistic or not, as you will be aware many business processes will have some error level. The issue is whether the error level is sufficiently low to enable appropriate use of the technology. You will be aware that there are a number of large scale biometric systems already in use, US- VISIT being one example. Furthermore the UKBA’s biometric visa system has fingerprinted over 2.8 million people and so far has detected 3500 instances of attempted identity fraud.

Therefore I am afraid I cannot agree with your statements that biometrics will not work, when we have clear and current evidence that it does.

In your correspondence you appear to be concerned about the issuance of multiple identities. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that the purpose of the biometric system is not to guarantee that this cannot happen but to provide an additional mechanism over and above the ones that are in use today for detecting and deterring fraud. Viewed in this way, biometrics makes a very substantial contribution to fraud detection.

Thank you for your interest and I trust that the above has provided you the assurance you require.

Yours faithfully,

Haroona Franklin

On behalf of the Identity and Passport Service