Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Psycho Metrics

My UK passport needs renewing.

My beloved niece, The Stevieniece, is getting married next summer and I must travel to Skeeter Pits, Saskatchewan, to help her on her journey into domestic blisters. The new rules say I can't just gad about crossing the border with only my green card1 and a UK birth certificate, and that means renewing the passport I got in 1996.

Thing is, the UK has stampeded headlong into the biometric documentation business and requires all sorts of things be done that are awkward in the extreme if one does not happen to be in the UK when one is trying to comply with their bally rules.

The first awkward thing is the addition of a couple of hundred dollars to the cost, on account of the extra bureaucracy that must be set up to process my passport when I enter and leave the UK. Which I don't plan on doing this side of avian pig evolution day. I dunno about you, but I find coming up with a couple of hundred dollars on spec more than a little awkward, especially when it's for something so appallingly badly thought-out as these MK1 portable ID theft vehicles. It used to be that the terrorist would have to actually steal the document to abuse your credentials. Now all they have to do is scan them from close range. No doubt I shall be able to foil this dastardly plan by wrapping the passport in a aluminum foil wallet. Foiled by foil as it were. Of course, trying to get the ruddy thing in and out of this improvised Faraday cage so it can be used for what it is intended for will be a trial, but no sacrifice (on my part) is too great for Western Governments in the fight against global terrorism these days.

The second awkward thing is the sizing and pose for the pictures. It seems that in order for the computer chip to work properly, I cannot be photographed as I was for my last three passports, but must pose just so with my glasses off (to reduce glare). Great now I have to pull off my specs at every fbleeping passport check just so some fbleeping sorry-arsed computer system, well below the Star Trek state-of-the-art assumed by the shirt-for-brains politicians who specified the requirements of the system, can spend an eternity deciding what a human could in about a second: whether I look like me in the photo. Not only that, the instruction sheet demands the sizes of the face, head and so forth conform to (non-standard in the US) dimensions laid out in metric (again, non-standard in the US). If the fbleeping dimensions are so fbleeping critical (no less that 29mm chin to top of head, no more than 34mm for fbleeps sake), you'd think that there would be software available to scale the images properly. Not so, of course.

I spent about an hour with a very helpful but increasingly frustrated photographer at Sears as we attempted to get the scale of the photograph just right. The job was complicated because there was no provision for adding a ruler to the image displayed on the computer screen (good choice, anonymous software designer) and I didn't have a transparency of the required head size, just a PDF I found after about an hour of searching the labyrinthine UK Government websites. Sizing the photograph involved guessing, printing and comparing with a folded copy of the PDF.

It was all very irritating.

I wouldn't mind, but you have to figure that the bad guys already have equipment for ripping out the information on the biometric chips.

  1. Which is neither green nor made of card

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