EU biometric RFID scheme unworkable, says EU tech report

Orwellian system breaks self. How appropriate...


European plans for biometric passports and visas have been derailed by, er, European plans for biometric passports and visas. A technical committee set up to report to the Council of Ministers on the implementation of a uniform visa format has concluded that collisions between contactless chips in a passport would make the current plans unworkable, reports Statewatch.

The basic problem was eminently predictable, and stems from plans for a standard form of biometric identification across a number of different documents, not all of which are entirely controlled by Europe. Notably, the common European passport format is not, if you think about it, entirely controlled by Europe. So how does that work (or not), then?

The technical committee's report commences by saying it is feasible to integrate an RFID chip and two biometric identifiers in a passport "while assuring a high level of security" - you may or may not agree entirely, but so far so good, as far as the committee is concerned. But what happens when you try to put an RFID biometric visa in the passport as well? This "leads to difficulties for the reader to read out the valid visa in case there are several contactless chips on different visa in the same passport."

At the moment Europe's plans for ID consists of two biometric identifiers, facial and fingerprint, for passport and for visas and residence permits for third country nationals. The passport plans theoretically stem from ICAO's standard for biometric passports (which only requires facial) and from US requirements for biometric passports for visitors (again, facial acceptable) from late next year. The European Commission has however been busily devising a far more wide-ranging system of biometric ID with the enthusiastic support of the Council of Ministers. The elected European Parliament has been somewhat less keen, but is generally ignored. Next on the agenda are plans for a common format for ID cards.

Conceivably you could produce a compatible system for RFID-readable biometric passports, residence permits and ID, because European control of the standards here makes it at least theoretically possible to avoid collisions between chips. The ID cards/permits would only have one chip on them (provided the permit was a separate card and not in the passport), and the passport system's operation would only become doubtful if other countries started putting RFID biometric visas in them. But, um, seeing that's precisely what Europe intends to do to third country passports, it would seem obvious that other countries would want to start doing it too. This is where you really start to run into problems. The report considers the possibility of several such visas in the same passport, and concludes that the proposed regulation is "technically not feasible."

It considers a number of proposed permutations and finds they're all unworkable, but tentatively puts forward two others that aren't in the current proposals. A "visa sticker and separate biometric visa smart card" could work, but there's obvious potential for losing the card, while a sticker with no chip, but with biometrics in a barcode wouldn't cause collision problems, but would need a different reader, and would only have space for two fingerprint templates, not ten. Basically, the plans are a mess.

The report however says that some delegations now wish to wait for the introduction of Europe's Visa Information Service (VIS), which has a target of 2007-8, to produce a fix. The VIS is intended to collect biometrics from visa applicants and store them first on national databases, then on a central EU database, which in theory would mean biometrics could be compared from records rather than locally between bearer and document. This, considering that the biometric passport system just adopted by Europe is currently specifically limited to a local compare, mightn't strike the powers that be as entirely ideal.

Britain's position as a non-Schengen state which is planning to introduce its own 'similar but different' biometric system, where all British documents are intended to be part of the same ID system, complicates matters further. In this week's debate on the second reading of the ID Bill Immigration Minister Des Browne welcomed agreement "to introduce biometric travel documents throughout the EU", but failed to mention that the UK wasn't actually party to that agreement, or that chip compatibility issues had been identified.

Humorously, Statewatch quotes a Council note on visa security and controls describing the proposed visa sticker, and saying that any attempt to interfere with the chip would mean that "it self-destructs" or, alternatively, it explodes. So might a visa chip being interfered with by another visa chip think it was under attack and, oh dear... ®

Related Stories:

Europe kicks UK out of biometric passport club
UK ID cards to be issued with first biometric passports
Fingerprints to become compulsory for all EU passports


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022