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Last Updated: Monday, 26 February 2007, 13:40 GMT
Tech rant: Technical ignorance
Biometric passport
Biometric passports are to be rolled out in the UK
BBC Click reporter Chris Long takes a swipe at some of the technologies that are floated as good ideas by government.

When the suffragette Emily Davison killed herself by grabbing at King George V's race horse Anmer in the 1913 Epsom Derby did she actually make a difference?

It is generally thought that she was making a "grand gesture". But did she make a difference?

Women finally got the vote in 1918 but at the time Davison's actions were roundly condemned.

It raises the question: no matter how foolish the thought, does simply expressing it move things forward?

The question came to me while looking at the latest questionable government-backed technology. But which project am I talking about?

Am I referring to the NHS database which is upsetting doctors and IT specialists alike?

Bright spark

Recently in South Warwickshire some bright spark realised that it was taking too long for A&E staff to log in to their new computer system - so now the shift leaders log in on one computer and everyone uses it. An interesting take on security, wouldn't you say?

Or am I talking about the e-passport that has a chip attached which is only guaranteed for two of the 10 years of the passport's life?

Surely the technology ideas we get thrown at us have to mean something? They have to be viable.

Plus the technology of reading the millions of passports hasn't been tested and reportedly the security of the chip has already been compromised.

Or perhaps I am referring to the biometric face and eye recognition systems on the proposed identity card which currently don't work efficiently or accurately enough?

Finally, is it the merging of three big government databases - the Department of Work and Pensions, the Identity and Passport Service and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate - when there is no guarantee that they don't have incorrect and fraudulent information on them.

Well, take your pick.

Technical thinking

Let's be clear, my concern here isn't the "inevitable erosion of civil liberties" or the endless mewling references to Big Brother - that's the easy target and in a democracy probably the easiest to sort out.

After all democracies can make poor decisions as well as good - that's what makes it a democracy.

No, my concern about all this is the ignorance of the technical thinking behind these ideas; ideas that have apparently been formulated by people who've learnt their technology from watching, James Bond, Star Trek, Dr Who and Blakes 7.

I can just imagine the conversation: "Q says we have to connect the Tardis engine to some dilthium crystals and throw some tachyon particles at it... What do you think Orac?"

But it was John Reid who caught my attention when he said he was thinking of forcing paedophiles to put their online identity details on the Sex Offenders Register. I knew what the words meant, and they almost sounded sensible.

No checks

But the reality is that it is so easy to create an online identity - there are no checks at all when you create a webmail account, for example.

But Mr Reid wasn't talking to me, he was talking to people that will nod sagely and say "bloody good idea", because these people also don't have a clue about getting online identities.

But surely the technology ideas we get thrown at us have to mean something? They have to be viable.

And if they aren't viable, who is judging the effect of this steady drip, drip of technological ignorance on our perception of technology?

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