Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Category: EDL (page 1 of 6)

Biometrics and the BC Services Card

Image by kentkb

Anti-fraud capabilities are touted as a major component of the proposed BC Services Card. While the government is almost certainly overstating the issue of fraud, the political rhetoric around fraud doesn’t inherently mean that proposed anti-fraud mechanisms will be similarly overstated. Indeed, many of the Services Card’s suggested changes could be helpful in limiting the issuance of fraudulent identity documents; adding a card holder’s photo, an expiry date, and anti-counterfeiting technologies to new medical CareCards could be quite helpful in ascertaining, and addressing, fraud levels. Unfortunately, the biometric systems that will also be linked to the Services Cards are unlikely to significantly defray fraud.

In this post I continue my analysis of the BC Services Card, this time with a focus on the cards’ integration with biometric analysis technologies. I begin by giving a primer on the origins of biometric analysis for identity documents in BC, and then move to outline how the government asserts that the biometric analyses should work. I then explain why adopting biometric identifiers matters: why don’t they tend to work? what is at stake in their inclusion? I conclude by (re)suggesting some entirely reasonable security processes that might defray fraud without needing the cards’ proposed biometric properties.

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Facial Recognition and Enhanced Drivers Licenses

boyinmodelcar1912Enhanced Drivers Licenses (EDLs) have been with us for a while now, and it would appear that we’re starting to see the ‘advantages’ of EDLs in British Columbia (BC). Before getting into the how facial recognition and EDLs are being used, let’s back up and (briefly) outline what makes these new licenses special. As I wrote in “Now Showing: EDL Security Theatre“:

As of June 1, 2009, Canadians and Americans alike require an Enhanced Drivers License (EDL), a NEXUS card, a FAST card, a passport, or a Secure Certificate of Indian Status to cross a Canadian-American land border. In Canada, only Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Manitoba have moved ahead to develop provincial EDLs; the Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island governments have all decided not to provide these high tech, low privacy, cards to the constituencies (Source). To apply for an EDL in a participating province, all you need to do is undergo an intensive and extensive 30 minute face-to-face interview at your provincial equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Your reward for being verbally probed? A license that includes a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag and a biometric photograph. The RFID tag includes a unique number, like your Social Insurance Number (SIN), that is transmitted to anyone with an RFID reader. These readers can be purchased off the shelf by regular consumers, and number your EDL emits is not encrypted and does not require an authentication code to be displayed on a reader. Effectively, RFID tag numbers are easier to capture than your webmail password.

As part of the EDL process in BC, there is a capturing of facial biometric data to better authenticate license holders. I noted that I was confused about how effective such a system might be without a mass adoption of the EDL a few months ago,

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Now Showing: EDL Security Theatre

darktheatreWe’re paying for a high-tech Broadway show that’s themed around ‘security’, but we’re actually watching the equivalent of a catastrophic performance in a low budget community theatre. The price of admission? Only millions dollars and your privacy.

As of June 1, 2009, Canadians and Americans alike require an Enhanced Drivers License (EDL), a NEXUS card, a FAST card, a passport, or a Secure Certificate of Indian Status to cross a Canadian-American land border. In Canada, only Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Manitoba have moved ahead to develop provincial EDLs; the Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island governments have all decided not to provide these high tech, low privacy, cards to the constitutencies (Source). To apply for an EDL in a participating province, all you need to do is undergo an intensive and extensive 30 minute face-to-face interview at your provincial equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Your reward for being verbally probed? A license that includes a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag and a biometric photograph. The RFID tag includes a unique number, like your Social Insurance Number (SIN), that is transmitted to anyone with an RFID reader. These readers can be purchased off the shelf by regular consumers, and number your EDL emits is not encrypted and does not require an authentication code to be displayed on a reader. Effectively, RFID tag numbers are easier to capture than your webmail password.

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EDL ‘Oopsies’ Around Canada

stuckinsnowBoth Ontario and Manitoba have  declared their interest in EDLs. Both are running into problems.

In Ontario’s case, it appears as though there is some confusion about whether or not the province can actually deploy the licenses in time to meet the June 1, 2009 Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) deadline – after this date, Canadians will need to use either an EDL or passport to cross a land border into the US. While the Sun is reporting that the deadline won’t be met by the Ontario provincial government, and the Star is saying that Minister Bradley thinks that only “some” applicants will get the licenses in time, CTV is noting that Bradley insists that the licenses will be available in time to meet the WHTI deadline. No one totally agrees on what is going on in Ontario concerning the EDL roll-out. They can all agree, however, that EDLs are terribly expensive: whereas a passport will cost $87, and Ontario EDL will run you $115. An affordable ‘solution’ to border travel indeed…

In Manitoba, it was expected that around 100,000 Manitobans would want to get their hands on EDLs. Unfortunately, it seems like the government slightly overestimated the demand: since February 2, 2009 less than 1,500 people have applied. 24,000 have applied for passports in Manitoba. Oops.

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