British Criminologist Focuses on Identity Technology

In my recent comments about tracking beacons (radio-enabled devices with an unchanging identifier that becomes associated with a human subject) I argued that while they represent a threat to the privacy of the general population, they will not be effective against criminals and terrorists:

‘Criminals will soon come to understand the need to “cover their tracks”. They will gain access to alternate (fraudulently obtained or freshly stolen) tokens and employ the alternate tokens in endeavors that require secrecy. In this case tokens may actually make it easier for criminals to dissimulate their activities. Only bottom rung vandals, those prone to unpremeditated stupidity, and ordinary citizens can be monitored through this type of technology.’

By co-incidence, here is a story from Britain's The Telegraph about criminologist Emily Finch, who is about to publish results of a study which led her team to very similar conclusions:

‘The introduction of identity cards will fail to solve the growing problem of identity theft and could lead to an increase in fraud, according to a new study.

‘Researchers have concluded that the shift from human vigilance to a reliance on new technologies is failing to prevent the activities of fraudsters and in some cases is providing them with new opportunities.

‘Emily Finch, a criminologist at the University of East Anglia, believes that criminals will find ways around the proposed security measures designed to ensure that those applying for identity cards are who they say they are.

‘She and her colleagues reached their conclusions after interviewing criminals and observing the ways they use new technologies to their advantage.

‘Dr Finch, who will today outline her findings at the British Association, said: “There is a worrying assumption that advances in technology will provide the solution to identity theft whereas it is possible that they may actually aggravate the problem.

‘”Our research has shown that fraudsters are tenacious, merely adapting their strategies to circumvent new security measures rather then desisting from fraudulent behaviour.

‘”Studying the way that individuals disclose sensitive information would be far more valuable in preventing identity fraud than the evolution of technologically advanced but ultimately fallible measures to prevent the misuse of personal information after it has been obtained. We don't think identity cards will solve the problem of identity theft, and they have the potential to increase fraudulent behaviour.

‘”The plan is to use documents such as birth certificates and driving licences for authentication, but these are easy to obtain in someone else's name.”

‘The controversial Identity Cards Bill passed its second reading in the Commons with the Government's majority of 67 cut to 31 at the end of June. Under the proposals, citizens would have to disclose details of bank accounts, proof of residency and address, birth certificate, passport number, NHS number, National Insurance number and a credit reference number when applying for ID cards.

‘In America criminals have been able to bribe credit reference agency staff and hack into their databases in order to obtain false references.

‘Fraudsters can easily obtain fake documents such as driving licences and birth certificates, and even passports.

‘Dr Finch studied the recent introduction of chip and pin, a measure designed to cut down on the fraudulent use of other people's bank cards.

‘She added: “Chip and pin has not stopped fraud or even reduced it. It has altered the way people behave, and so fraudsters have just changed their strategies.

‘”The focus has shifted to acquiring the pin – something which is very easy to do if you look at the till.” Dr Finch said staff, who are told to look away when customers enter their details, have become less vigilant. She and a male colleague were able to use each others’ cards to make purchases.

‘Figures published by Cifas, a fraud advice service set up by the credit card industry, suggest instances of identity theft rose by 13 per cent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year. The Government has estimated that identity fraud costs the economy more than £1.3 billion a year.’

More when I get access to her study.

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.