Plans to use fingerprint scanners to control access to the House of Commons have been abandoned "over fears that terrorists could cut off an MP's finger to get inside," claims the Mail on Sunday, citing a recent episode of Spooks and "Commons security experts."
The Register is however not entirely convinced that there were ever any serious plans to use fingerprints in this generation of Commons security. Why, the notion is patently ridiculous - as absurd as the idea of using fingerprints to secure the country's borders... And consider - say you're an MP, a terrorist has got you, and he's holding a chopper. You're just worried about your fingers, are you?
In any event, if the experts did advise against using fingerprints, they must have advised some time ago, as new Commons security passes have begun to be distributed to MPs relatively recently. These use a PIN, presumably checked against data stored on the card, and are only needed for the "external perimeter", so once you're in you're in, and it seems unlikely that there's any kind of audit trail of accesses and users.
Commons security came under the spotlight a few years ago, when two bags of purple flour panicked MPs into installing a huge screen between themselves and the public gallery. A security review was conducted then, but although large concrete blocks and crashproof barriers have figured high among subsequent measures, the Parliamentary pass is one of the most glaring security holes. Large numbers of people need to have access to Parliament, and MPs and Lords dish out passes to researchers and support staff liberally. For years nobody has had more than a vague idea of how many passes there are out there, and who's got them - and significantly, when pro-hunt demonstrators penetrated the Commons chamber, they breached perimeter (that word again) defences by nipping through a door used by workmen.
The new PIN-protected system is unlikely to be significantly better at protecting MPs from passing terrorists than the old one was, given that it will be equally vulnerable to the human factor and that passes will be equally impossible to keep track of. It will however produce some temporary improvement simply by allowing all of the old, unidentifiable passes to be written off, and giving Commons security a couple of years breathing space before it degenerates back into chaos.
Would biometrics have been any better? Almost certainly not, but if MPs really are seriously concerned that terrorists might want to penetrate the Commons and bump them off, they really ought to implement a sensible security system that can be properly monitored and audited. And maybe they oughtn't to worry about their fingers too much, if they did decide to go for biometrics. The smart terrorist, surely, is going to chop a researcher's finger off, not an MP's - it'd take them a lot longer to spot a missing researcher, matter of fact they probably never would. ®