Will Biometric Identity Cards Prevent Terrorism?

The Government of India is claiming that mandatory biometric identity cards will prevent and reduce the likelihood of ideologically inspired acts of terrorism such as those perpetuated on 26th November 2008 in Mumbai…I personally think they will not as ID cards are no protection against events such as those witnessed on that disastrous day…Do you think if biometric cards had been in existence in 2008, Kasab & Co. wouldn’t have been able to land in Mumbai and create the havoc they did?

Say a person from another country decides to commit an act of ideologically inspired destruction within India and enters the country on a valid visa obtained from the Indian embassy in his country after showing genuine or false papers (it is very hard for embassies to verify documents and identities especially in countries that don’t have a biometric database )… Once inside India he proceeds to gather all the items needed to create the explosive device he needs and then makes his way to his target venue…While entering his chosen place, he’ll produce whatever ID the Indian government has given him on entry to India…Once inside, he detonates the bomb he has made with predictable results… If he is a suicide bomber then he and his identity card will be reduced to smithereens and if he is not a suicide bomber but has found a way to create the explosion from a safe distance, then by the time the police get to the bomb site, he’ll be on his way out of the country by showing his passport at the exit point…

Now lets look at home grown terrorism…Suppose an Indian citizen decides for whatever reason to commit an act of violence against his countrymen…Although he has a biometric ID card, he is still free to commit the act of destruction he wants to…The ID card will not stop him…At best, it will help the police to identify him after the event and if he is a suicide bomber, then the card will not be helpful at all in its charred form…

The government claims that ID cards will allow security agencies to track people and question suspects before they create havoc…Is it possible to track 1.1 billion people on a regular basis? It will work only if the suspects are known to security agencies and if they leave a trail…One must remember that terrorists are masters of their game and experts at staying below the radar and even with biometric ID cards, their activities may remain untraceable…The cards may help catch a few suspects and thwart some attacks but I don’t think it’ll reduce them by much…The thing with ideological terrorists is that they always find a way…Compulsory ID cards in Spain did not stop the Madrid train bombers and compulsory ID cards in Germany did not stop the planning of the September 11 attacks by Mohammed Atta and his associates in Hamburg…

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23 thoughts on “Will Biometric Identity Cards Prevent Terrorism?

  1. I do believe that ID cards will certainly help in updating various records.
    But, to consider that ID cards will help is only a political statement.
    Any number of efforts by the govt—visible—will not help against terror till thwho are responsible show a political will.Dont they know that terror is coming from open Bangla border?
    Open Nepal border?Do they know how many Pakis have overstayed their visa limits in India?Do they know how many Paki performers are working in bollywood as performers without valid work permits?
    Let us not get carried away.ID is for a different purpose, but politically it may be a talking point during elections.
    ID has nothing to do with terror–we need political will

    Me: I agree with you, Mr.Chowla…Also, as long as our law enforcement & intelligence personnel remain lax, terrorist activities will only continue…

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  2. The cards, obviously, won’t stop attacks. But they will make it infinitely easier for our cops and spooks to keep tabs on persons of interest. Just because there are a billion plus cards doesn’t mean they have to keep tabs on everyone. But when there is a repeated blip on the suspicion radar, the cards could really help. Isn’t it better than our law enforcement and intelligence agencies running blind in the hope they’ll catch a lucky break somewhere? Put yourself in their shoes.
    Even if it is a foreign-sponsored terror attack, the cards could help trace the perpetrators through their Indian associates. No attack can be carried out without some amount of local help, whether it is extended voluntarily or unwittingly.
    There is absolutely nothing in the world that can stop lunatic sociopaths or religious fanatics from committing acts of crime or terrorism. It just can’t be done. But what is wrong if we have a system in place that could help swiftly bring the perpetrators or abettors to book? At least that could serve as an example and perhaps dissuade a few wannabe psychos.

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    • Here’s what I have an issue with:

      “But they will make it infinitely easier for our cops and spooks to keep tabs on persons of interest.”

      Most likely those persons will be harmless Indian citizens. By fingerprinting everyone, you create an atmosphere that says “I don’t trust the people of this country.” After all, it’s well known that the overwhelming use of fingerprints is in criminal investigations. It changes the atmosphere and the relationship between the government and the people.

      Basically, the one sentence that summarizes my feelings is “The state doesn’t need to know everything.”

      But for interests sake, how do you feel about DNA profiling next? There are already proposals tabled for this. What would you feel if a government official came to you with a needle demanding a blood sample?

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  3. Sraboney, I think how biometric data would help is by identifying those Indian citizens who lay groundwork for terrorist acts to be made possible. Probably government does not always make it public, but they must be finding consignments of RDX, unlicensed weapons, narcotic drugs without knowing their owner. Having a database of finger prints must help a lot. Take the Kingfisher bomb case, for example. Finger prints on the explosive & newspaper would’ve made it very easy to find out the perpetrators. In fact, this would actually prevent wrongful harassment of innocent people merely on the basis of ‘circumstantial evidence’. Think of illegal mobile phones that have a great role in planning of these attacks. If everyone would have a UID, to obtain such connections would become very difficult.

    Think of a bomb that fails to detonate. How frustrating would it be to not know who had assembled it & placed it despite presence of finger prints on them.

    Suicide bombers might die, but it’s important to remember all those they come in contact with & who stay behind the scenes in successive attacks are almost always the same people. They do not die, & identifying them would prevent future attacks.

    So while, I’m not claiming attacks will not occur, even if a few are prevented, we would be saving precious lives.

    What’s important is not that bombings in Spain occurred, but that the frequency of terrorist attacks in developed nations is much less than in India.

    UID will make it very difficult for illegal immigrants to live in India.

    Apart from terrorist attacks, it would be much easier to nab those involved in other crimes like thefts, kidnappings, serial murders, forgery, etc.

    But I maintain, prints of all the fingers must not be collected. Probably only thumb & index finger prints of both hands should be collected. This would make deliberate planting of finger prints at crime scenes impossible.

    Wikipedia mentions that finger prints can survive heat of 500 to 600 centigrade. So of course, most of the finger prints on the explosives would be destroyed, but those components that get ejected early on (lying on the outside) might still retain them.

    Bhagwad,

    I think there’s another way of looking at it. Once, even people like Indian President & CJI would be profiled, having one’s fingerprints recorded would no longer remain a taboo.

    I agree with what Roopa had to say.

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    • Well, I’m not sure I would feel any better if the President or CJI gave up their biometrics. I wouldn’t really care if they did or didn’t.

      But what about DNA profiling? After all, that fits nicely in with your argument. Criminals will almost invariably leave hair strands, blood samples, saliva, semen etc at the scene of the crime. Would you support a national DNA database to more easily identify these people?

      If not, why not?

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      • Bhagwad,

        Any new idea’s implementation has to be based on of its risk-benefit consideration.

        Added risks with DNA profiling.

        The risk with finger print profiling (if not done with all 10 fingers) is very little. At most some people might find it humiliating. Personally, I don’t find it that way because as it is in many public exams, the candidates are required to submit their application with left thumb prints. Even during the exams, along with signatures, left thumb print & photograph copies are collected from the candidates to minimize possibility of proxy examinees.

        But the risk with DNA profiling is, it can give rise to biases & discrimination, if the database is misused. Unlike finger prints wherein, one DNA profile can be perceived to be better than another. This can result in discrimination. Whereas, I see little reason someone would discriminate on the basis of differences in finger print patterns.

        Also, there would be small legal problems like with sperm donation. There is double blinding involved, i.e., both the donor & recipient are not supposed to know each others’ identities.

        Does DNA profiling have significant benefits over finger print profiling?

        In my opinion, no. Because finger print matching is a more preliminary method for identification for several reasons like less cost involved, lesser time taken, more exact identification, greater durability than DNA (DNA starts denaturing just above 100 centigrade, if I remember correctly) in face of heat. So basically, identification with finger prints is easier & more confirmatory.

        If on the basis of finger prints someone is suspected, DNA matching can be used as additional method to confirm the identity. But usually if finger prints match, doing so is not required. The only advantage could be where hand gloves are used to commit crimes, but at least as of now gloves are not used in substantial number of crimes.

        But there’s an entirely different cause in which DNA profiling can help – matching for organ donation. However, debate on this would veer into a different domain altogether. 🙂

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  4. Many times, Indian citizens who have helped the terrorist ‘behind the scenes’ are known to the police and to the general public, even without the UID system.

    After the Mumbai attacks, the restaurant near the Taj Hotel where a large amount of RDX was stored was known to the police. It is still merrily in business and as far as I know, no arrests have been made.

    The prominent politicians who helped the recently arrested alleged terrorists from Azamgarh are known to everyone, including the police. What has happened to them?

    There is no need of an elaborate system to identify terrorists or those who help them. There is need of the will to arrest and prosecute them.

    Me: I agree with you…Mere knowledge is not enough…Political will is…

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  5. No….Imagine a paan eating pot bellied typical ;police man asked to keep track of xyz’s activites with a card…”khamokha kaam badha diya” will be the response.

    Me: 🙂

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  6. Everytime they talk about one more identification item for the citizens, I shudder. be it Ration cards, PAN cards, passports, Election cards, BPL cards, etc, they are used basically to put obstacles in the path of the average citizens. Political considerations have been known to beat all technologies.

    The other thing that bothers me is that we keep on giving the same information again and again to a large number of government agencies. These records all exist independently and there is no networking to check redundancies or fake entries. The same will happen with the UID, I feel.

    And as far as biometrics go, as Manju said the will and thinking has to be there. After the Pune blasts, someone came by and used buckets of water and cleaned up the german bakery place the same evening, basically wiping out all signs of whatever. No one stopped them, no police or anyone else. The problem is nobody wants to look, think, or interfere.

    Me: I remember 3-4 years back, SEBI came up with the idea that in order to invest, people needed a SEBI photo ID card along with the PAN card…Got my photo taken and got the card, but then that scheme was abandoned…They just harassed a whole lot of people…The govt. and govt. agencies don’t think things through and just waste money…

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  7. I have always wished we had complete data – biometrics and all, of all those who have ever been involved in any crimes – it would be good if the police in any part of the country could verify criminal records at the click of a button… (though there is a risk of errors in such records) . Most terrorists have been involved in some petty crimes before they became terrorists anyway.

    But the thought of anybody having too much personal information about me doesn’t make me very comfortable.

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  8. Sraboney, it all looks great on paper. Frankly, I`m not sure how effective it will be in practice. The USA/UK have a biometric scan of fingerprints taken each time a person travels between these two countries. I did it myself. But fat lot of good that did! The recent averted terrorist attack in Detroit was by a traveler from Europe who`s father had already tipped off the FBI officials!!! So you see, I`m not really sure this will bring about any radical change.. I really doubt it.

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  9. You can have biometric IDs and you can have stronger laws – in all probability they will be used by the cops and other agencies to harass ordinary citizens and extort even more money from them…..the criminals and terrorists always seem to find a way.

    Let’s look at what we already have: ration cards, Election PICs, passports, pan-cards, driving licenses and, in addition to all this, IDs issued to government employees. While I doubt our ability to make the biometric ID universally available to all eligible citizens (Look at the mess the Election PICs are in), even if we did manage that, nothing is going to change unless we start efectively using whatever we have at our disposal. For an approximate parallel, look at the legal system. We seem to have all the right laws, but it is their implementation that is a problem. One look at the backlog of cases, the duration of any lawsuit and the abysmal conviction rates should tell us that. Unless we start cleaning up our basics, you could implant a data-chip in every citizen’s body and it still wouldn’t help – except to make it easier for the government to screw us even more.

    Quirky Indian

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  10. Agree with what you’ve said, Bones. More information isn’t necessarily going to deter those who want to perpetrate a crime! They are far more advanced than the Govt or the ordinary man.

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  11. We need a biometric ID (it could be incorporated into our drivers license or passport) that everyone in our society carries so that NO ONE can claim discrimination (leaving us open to many major lawsuits) and so that EVERYONE is held accountable as there are many people within our borders at this point who need to be held accountable. A border within our borders so to speak.

    It is very important for the ID to expire according to ones LEGAL status.
    An expiration date that expires according to one’s legal status (citizen, worker, guest, student, legal status etc.) as opposed to a predetermined amount of time. This would ultimately make it possible for us to become a more welcoming society and to expand our guest worker program, student exchange program, etc. It would also allow us to hold in-country people accountable such as sex offenders. For example, the 9-11 terrorists were here legally, but their period for stay in this country had expired. Unfortunately, they were still able to function in our country. With this system it is highly unlikely that they would have been able to carry out the attack. When their time had expired, they would not have been able to continue to function in our country. For example, they would not have been able to take flight lessons, rent cars, rent hotel rooms, buy airline tickets, board a plane or enter into any designated/secured site, space, or location because they would have been expired. It’d be similar to trying to go through an EZ-pass when your card has expired. We have always had to look for the needle in the haystack. With a system like this the haystack disappears as one’s legal status expires exposing the needle. The system could also be effective in making sure that sex offenders, and others who have not met their legal obligations are held accountable.

    Anything short of EVERYONE in the population participating in the system will only result in us looking for a needle in the haystack, if something happens. If everyone had been using a system like this on 9-11, chances are, it would not have occurred. This system will go a long way to getting issues of work visas, student visas, etc., under control, but will also have impact on how we deal with sex offenders, drug dealers, and credit card, check and bank fraud, etc.
    We do not want to see our government putting together a commission or engage in a blame game to figure out why we didn’t take preventive action ahead of time. This is not a time to be politically afraid to do what is right for today’s world. We should ALL be proud to be part of the solution.
    • Non-discriminatory application due to mandatory participation by everyone in the population
    • Profiling unnecessary

    • Predetermined expiration based on an individual’s legal status (citizen, immigrant, tourist, student, guest-worker, etc.)
    • Insures accountability
    • Compatible with various government threat levels (Severe, High, Elevated, Guarded, or Low)
    • Compatible with existing ID’s – Driver’s License, Pilot’s License, Passport, Etc.
    • Tamper/Fraud proof.

    Catherine A. Haala
    Crosscheck Identification System International
    U.S. Patent No.: 6,934,861 B2 • Effective nationwide protection from terrorism, illegal activities

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