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A study argues that there is too much uncertainty in biometrics to predict how well the technology will perform in the real world, much less support investment in this technology
Three scholars who have provided the academic foundation for the biometrics industry, particularly in the Western world, say that the level of uncertainty in biometrics is so great that tests prove nothing.
The academicians have, in a paper titled "Fundamental issues in biometric performance testing: A modern statistical and philosophical framework for uncertainty assessment", argued that the level of uncertainty in biometrics is so great that they cannot be used to predict how well the technology will perform in the real world and therefore this cannot support a valid argument for investment in biometrics.
The academicians are James L Wayman from San José State University, Antonio Possolo, head of the statistical engineering division at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Anthony J Mansfield from UK National Physical Laboratory, all recognised as stalwarts of the biometrics industry.
However, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which has embarked on a tagging programme that is based on biometrics, is silent on the report. The institution has, till now, been quick to associate with other academic groups.
While UIDAI claims that biometrics will allow it to deliver a unique identification, it has goofed up its own test results while pushing its ambitious Aadhaar project. (Read, 'How UIDAI goofed up pilot test results to press forward with UID scheme'.)
Since its inception, UIDAI has tried to force the use of biometrics for the UID number as the ultimate solution. UIDAI conducted a proof of the concept trial of the Aadhaar project between March and June 2010. The results of the concept trial, or scenario test, suggest that biometrics cannot be reliable and may encounter huge problems while dealing with false positives.
David Moss, who spent eight years campaigning against the UK's National ID (NID) card scheme, sees hard times ahead for the global mass consumer biometrics industry. He said, "Not only has the industry lost its academic support, but governments are starting to abandon ship. President Obama's plans for trusted identity on the web make no mention of biometrics. The same goes for the UK's plans for identity assurance, in which case also there is no mention of relying on biometrics at all."
"The superstitious belief in mass consumer biometrics is like an illness, it's like the tulip mania that affected Holland in the 17th century. And now, perhaps, it is passing. Even in Holland, where they announced last month that they have suspended their plans to develop a centralised population register recording every person's biometrics," Mr Moss said.
There are three types of tests used for biometrics. One is the lab or technology test; the other is the operational or field test; and the third is a scenario test. A biometrics technology test is conducted in the lab and is entirely computer-based. An operational test is conducted in the field, in the real world, with the biometrics package coming under attack from different, unpredictable sets. In a scenario test, researchers recruit a putatively representative sample of the population so that they can test the biometrics packages with real people under still fairly controllable conditions. The UIDAI used the scenario test for UID.
On the scenario test, the three academicians write, "The test repeatability and reproducibility observed in technology tests are lost in scenario testing due to the loss of statistical control over a wide range of influence quantities. Our inability to apply concepts of statistical control to any or all of these factors will increase the level of uncertainty in our results and translate to loss of both repeatability and reproducibility. Test data from scenario evaluations should not be used as input to mathematical models of operational environments that require high levels of certainty for validity."
This exactly is the reason why governments across the globe are not emphasising on biometrics anymore. Last year, the newly-elected government in the UK scrapped the National ID programme citing huge costs, impracticality and ungovernable breaches of privacy associated with the programme. Last month, the US released its 'National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace' signed by president Obama and nowhere has the 45-page document used the word 'biometrics'.
Also in April, the Dutch government suspended its plan to develop a centralised flat print fingerprint population register, citing concerns about security and reliability of the system.
However, this is not the case with India, where it seems that there is ample money and nobody cares about security, reliability and privacy, and everybody from politicians, corporates to the media are 'greased', directly or indirectly. This is the reason why UIDAI is forcing the UID number onto gullible citizens.
"Why is India spending billions on Aadhaar, which depends on biometrics whose reliability is, so say the titans, utterly unknowable? And will the UIDAI ever answer my question how they can claim to offer unique identification when, based on their own figures, they would have to perform 18,000,000,000,000 (18 trillion or 18 lakh crore) manual checks to prove uniqueness? And why do they think Aadhaar will eradicate corruption, rather than automate corruption," asks Mr Moss.
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The race for land acquisition in Noida is gaining pace. Apart from a pretty racetrack, there will be a lot of commercial and residential property, maybe even an international airport, and more, all a short distance from Delhi
Motorsports has never been for those without deep pockets. Globally. However, for those who could not afford the thrill of being behind the wheels, there was always the option of sharing in the excitement by being part of the organisers.
Marshalls, safety officials, service teams, and all the rest of it-you got up-close to the action, you had access to the stars, and at the end of the day you even had somebody picking up your expenses, you were invited to the best parties, and if you were lucky then maybe an honorarium came your way too.
All this has changed. Leave alone the even deeper pockets needed to get behind the wheel, most support and organisational positions are also up for auction, barring the extremely highly technically designated ones. Pit crew positions, supposedly the holiest of all holies, as also those for the cheesecake on display, for example, are also eminently buyable: The guy who waves the stop/go signboard, or the girl who trots past suitably bared, often pay for the privilege of getting their mugs and more on the screen.
In the midst of all this, India's domestic motorsport scene has been trundling along, carried forward by a band of enthusiasts, who seemingly do not get tired despite the lack of serious sponsorships. Frankly, there are very few new faces; one sees the same lot going back 20-30 years, in charge. Whether it is the growing rally circuit all over the country, the rather static motor racing crowd at Sholavaram near Chennai, or the wavering go-kart races, the sport seems to, still, be running on its own steam with moderate to low support from the government.
Till the Formula-1 circus hit the horizon. And till whispers reached my ears-'do you want to volunteer for the Formula-1 season, which by the way is likely delayed by two months to December 2011, ostensibly because of Bahrain, but more likely because the progress on the circuit is way behind schedule. Oh yes, there is interest. But it now appears that one has to pay to be a volunteer. However, there is an 'encouragement fee' in case you get more volunteers! Does anybody smell another scam here?
But that's chicken feed compared to the real big one. The big one is probably as big, if not bigger than the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) scams put together.
What we now have, on the Indian side of the horizon, is a 'circuit'. Named "Buddh International Circuit", it extends from one end of Noida, to way beyond Greater Noida, in its reach and control, with the racetrack being just one nodal component for what appears to be a land acquisition rampage of huge proportions. Fair enough, development cannot be stopped, land use shall be changed-that is how it is. The present agitation will eventually resolve itself-that is also a given. And apart from a pretty racetrack, we will see a lot of commercial property, residential property, industrial property, maybe even an international airport, and more, coming up, all within easy striking distance of Delhi. Even the sand being taken out has immense value; marshland and nature be damned.
But that's realty for you in India. Real estate corruption in India is a bigger ticket than the 2G scam, CWG scam and other scams that currently occupy mind space. Not as big as the mining scam, but certainly not too far from the defence scam, aviation scam and sea-cargo related scams-so these will take time to unravel. All these scams have a domestic side, which can be called "corruption" and a global side, which can be called "asset theft".
But what we have on the global side of the potential here at Formula 1, just as we did in the Commonwealth Games, is something else.
To start with, just like the Commonwealth Games, the whole Formula 1 concept appears to be, to put it mildy, in danger of winding down like an old grandfather's clock that has not been wound for some time. The undisputed boss, Bernie Ecclestone, is now 80, and is reported to have a history which is as colourful, if not more, than that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the ex-chief of the International Monetary Fund, now in a new disposition. For example, the television audience for Formula 1 is dropping, by as much as 35%, in England itself. (The stands don't really make that much money.) The private equity firm, CVC Capital, that now owns Formula 1, is reported to be accepting offers, and the only bid they have received is from a consortium composed of News Corp and Exor, the people who indirectly own Ferrari, which makes it a sort of one-automobile, one-television channel kind of in-house game. Think about pay-TV and only Ferraris.
That aside, the books at Formula 1 survive on very high 'hosting fees', paid by governments keen to see this event in their country. Close followers would have observed how stands are often empty. Some of these hosting fees, no doubt, are shared, especially where governments are corrupt. Viewed in a very simple businesslike manner, this is like the Indian government paying a foreign steel manufacturer to lift iron ore from India (which, amazingly, in a way is what is also happening, but that is a different report), and then also paying for everything else on the ground in India to assist, including paying for and putting up the infrastructure to do so. Imagine this, also, as leaving your house open for thieves, but also providing them with a car and keys to drive away, as well as a certificate declaring their provenance.
And to do all this, loans are organised, through Indian banks. Suitably hand-held by foreign banks, of course, so that tax-haven secrecy fundamentals can be brought into the picture, thereby providing our finance minister with an opportunity to look helpless. Again, the current number, in total, for the Formula 1 races is supposed to be in the region of (hold your breath) Rs700 crore to Rs800 crore as loans, grants and sanctioned expenses, on various accounts. This does not include the cost overrun as well as hosting fees.
These hosting fees are not small, they run into hundreds of millions of dollars, and are on an escalating scale, going up every year, regardless of anything else. To illustrate the size, France, which was the home of Formula 1, and where the first Formula 1 Grand Prix was ever held, has withdrawn simply because the hosting fees became too much for the organisers and the country to bear. (Local jokes refer to it now as Formula Zero, which when said in French is another colloquial joke altogether.) And France is one of the few developed countries where TV viewership is still going up.
What are the hosting fees India is paying, one way or the other, and who is paying it? There are no answers. Driving towards the work sites, one is not permitted beyond the outer perimeters, and the local motorsports bodies are not exactly forthcoming either. The official Formula 1 website does not say much about the India event. The Indian organisers and co-ordinators are, again, opaque.
The fact remains, that somehow, somewhere, some money from the taxes we pay are going towards this jamboree. And we have no idea how, who, or how much.
Technically, motorsports in India, like other sports, comes under the Ministry of Sports. That means, broadly, the Motorsports Association of India (MAI) and the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India (FMSCI). There is a clear judgement out on this; they need to be under the Right to Information Act of India, 2005. However, their websites do not show any adherences, and are absolutely silent on the numbers as everything else. Their 'leaders' have been the same for decades-Nazir Hoosein since the '60s and Vijay Mallya thereafter.
At the same time, like the CWG or IOA, they are supposed to come under international bodies, in this case the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), which is what MAI comes under. Trouble is, FMSCI owes its allegiance to the IOA. So, now begins the game of recognised, not recognised and affiliated, unaffiliated, so on and so forth, round and round, like an F 1 race. MAI and FMSCI, as well as splinter groups which form, merge, divide again, have been at it for so long that within the motorsports world in India, most people don't really know what is going on.
In the midst of all this comes this big lollipop, the Formula 1 race, which offers multiple benefits to everybody. So differences simmer, but are brushed under the carpet, for now. In the interim, the real big game carries on, and only one small part is this business of 'paying volunteers', which is where this article started from.
The real big part, as always, has to do with the way the mammaries of the State are going to be sucked dry again - in every possible way. Bernie Ecclestone, the boss of Formula-1, is already under investigation in Germany for bribery - wherein a bribe was paid to an executive at Bayerische Landesbank to pick up a stake in Formula 1. And now we invite the same entities, to sell us the same old snake-oil, which we will pay for?
Nobody is really talking about the numbers behind Formula 1 in India. The truth is that if people ask questions, like the farmers who own the land nearby did, the state uses the might at its disposal and sends in its police to shut them up. Something like what they tried to do with the Commonwealth Games, not too long ago, and see where it got the organisers?
(Veeresh Malik used to take part in motorsports, but withdrew in disgust over the politics in the game. MAI and FMSCI do not adhere to the RTI Act. Questions addressed to some people involved in organising the Formula 1 event are met with wry grins, and not much else. The media is kept totally out, barring guided tours for elements within the already compromised motoring media.)
Government has not worked out a policy on implementation of amendment to development control regulations; residents of Sewree housing complex get no help from government departments on application of rule
People living in buildings that are part of mill redevelopment projects must talk to the developers to employ erstwhile mill workers for various services in their residential blocks. Otherwise, they could be pulled up under the law, as has turned out to be the case for residents of Dosti Flamingoes complex, in Sewree. The residential complex has been built on land of the erstwhile Standard Industries and China Mill.
According to an amendment of the Development Control Regulations, DCR 58 of 3 October 2007, redevelopment projects must employ former mill workers or their relatives, and the responsibility rests with the mill owner, the developer and the present occupier of the premises. However, despite a high court directive, the government has not yet worked out a concrete policy to clarify the clause. This ambiguity has resulted in all parties concerned looking the other way on this matter of providing employment, while the residents have been left confused.
Residents of Dosti Flamingoes complex were surprised when they were issued a notice by the state labour commission, which stated that they must employ retired mill workers or their relatives for various services in the housing society. This was followed by visits by local labour unions demanding employment for the workers in such activities as security guards. Residents say they were not told about the rule before and that the government and developers have been passing the buck.
"It is not that we are against hiring these workers. But most of the workers are old and not fit to perform duty as guards or other laborious jobs like housekeeping. They want minimum wages and we cannot even decide the quality of work for which we would be paying, which in any case is as per market rates/minimum wages, no cost arbitrage," explained a resident of the complex.
A spokesperson of the state labour commission could not confirm the controversial legislation. It is also unclear who must inform the residents about this. Dosti Corporation, the developer of Dosti Flamingoes complex, insists it was unaware of the clause, but said that it has nonetheless employed 64 mill workers. Mill owners, on their part, do not feel they are responsible for the mill workers as they have sold the mill.
A property lawyer said, "Housing societies don't fall under the jurisdiction of the labour commission, but if there is a rule pertaining to the workers, it must be followed. However, it is unclear as to who must take the responsibility, since 'occupants' mean flat dwellers." Ideally, the occupants should be notified about this before they take possession of the properties.
Ms Neera Adarkar, urban researcher and housing activist, said, "Even the workers who have got their VRS and compensation are entitled to a job, and I don't see anything wrong in employing them. However, it is between the developer and the purchaser to decide on who is to take the responsibility, and who must crosscheck whether such rules exist."
The confusion leaves room for further debates in similar cases. The residents also approached Maharashtra Urban Development Department secretary, TC Benjamin, seeking clarity on the matter, but have not made any headway. An RTI query on the legislative status of DCR 58 has also not been answered so far.
"We are quite confused, and even though we don't have to employ more than 70 guards in two shifts, we have to hire 110 because of the pressure from the labour union," a resident said. "We paying almost one crore rupees a year, and we don't even know whether we have to do it."