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United Kingdom Security

London Tube Cleaners Don't Want Fingerprint Clock-in 351

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the wait'll-they-roll-out-dna-based-timecards dept.
Bismillah writes "Biometrics is hot stuff, not just for Apple but cleaning companies like the UK division of Denmark's IIS which tidies the London Underground railway network. However, the cleaners aren't happy about having to clock in and out with biometric fingerprint sensors, and are taking industrial action to stop the practice."
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London Tube Cleaners Don't Want Fingerprint Clock-in

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  • by djupedal (584558)
    When I worked in a NOC for a major bank, we had full hand scanners, explosives sniffers and video records to endure when we clocked in. That was fifteen years ago. Just be happy you have a job.
    • Re:BFD (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 16, 2013 @11:26PM (#44869945)

      Just be happy you have a job.

      This is exactly what the slavemasters want you to think.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by c0lo (1497653)

      When I worked in a NOC for a major bank, we had full hand scanners, explosives sniffers and video records to endure when we clocked in. That was fifteen years ago.
      Just be happy we didn't install exploding sniffers. You know? To increase the efficiency of the firing/dismissal procedure.

      FTFY

    • Re:BFD (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:36AM (#44870241)

      How about instead "Just be thankful you have workers"?

      What's more important: human beings or the profit of corporations?

      I think the best way to promote a positive evolution of morality, for the sake of mankind, is to deal with each individual according to their answer to that question... As a form of preliminary screening.

      • Re:BFD (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gl4ss (559668) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @01:12AM (#44870385) Homepage Journal

        well the reason they don't want the scanners is that then they can't as easily sell their job when they move on - or have their cousin cover for them on a sick day.

        unfortunately england is chock full of people who would take the job. for this same reason there's factories in china and latin america where the attendance of the workers is 99.9%(that is: no sickdays taken ever). sure, you can't be sure that it's always the same guy but you can be sure the family arranges someone to cover because that one worker feeds 10 people.

        • well the reason they don't want the scanners is that then they can't as easily sell their job when they move on - or have their cousin cover for them on a sick day.

          Or just not turn up for work and have a colleague claim that they're present but you can't see them now because they're out on some obscure bit of track.

          • by xaxa (988988)

            Or just not turn up for work and have a colleague claim that they're present but you can't see them now because they're out on some obscure bit of track.

            The cleaners clean trains and stations, not the track.

            Either system doesn't prevent someone clocking in and then not doing their job, whether they saty at the station/depot or not.

            • by DrXym (126579)
              No but at least it records when they are present and when they are not with less possibility for cheating.
        • Re:BFD (Score:5, Interesting)

          by martyros (588782) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @05:54AM (#44871357)

          well the reason they don't want the scanners is that then they can't as easily sell their job when they move on - or have their cousin cover for them on a sick day.

          Possibly, but another very good reason they don't want scanners is that it's demeaning and insulting.

          Unless there are significant problems (and not just "significant bending of the rules", but "significant extra expense or reduction in quality"), there is no reason to treat people like criminals.

          And if there are significant problems, there's a better solution: Hire people you trust, and then trust the people you hire; and don't judge them by stupid metrics like "has been physically present exactly N hours?", but by metrics like, "Is the area they were responsible for clean?" If it would take an average person working at a reasonable rate 8 hours to clean a certain area, and because of me the area is now clean, then pay me for 8 hours worth of work, whether it took me 8 hours or three hours.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by wagnerrp (1305589)
            So if you need to higher people you trust, that would mean summary firing of people found abusing the existing time card systems. It's my understanding that it's pretty damn tough to fire people in some European countries. I don't know if England is one of those.
      • by khallow (566160)

        How about instead "Just be thankful you have workers"?

        What's more important: human beings or the profit of corporations?

        What I think is the problem here is the implicit assumption that there's some sort of zero sum game between the two. But it's quite possible to interfere with the employment relationship in a way that is detrimental to both human beings and the profit of private enterprise (not just "corporations") and that this is routinely done throughout the developed world.

  • by Nephandus (2953269) on Monday September 16, 2013 @11:12PM (#44869887)
    I wouldn't want to touch anything down there barehanded either.
  • Fraud (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Monday September 16, 2013 @11:16PM (#44869901)

    The only "civil liberty" it attacks is the ability to fraudulently sign in for someone else. This is how unions get a bad name. Bio-metrics are used for time card validation on many places and it is neither "draconian" nor "an attack on civil liberties".

    The article then goes on to talk about biometric authentication on mobile devices which has nothing to do with biometric time card sign ins. This is another sensationalistic piece which brings together unrelated information in an attempt to make a big splash.

    • Re:Fraud (Score:5, Insightful)

      by flayzernax (1060680) on Monday September 16, 2013 @11:22PM (#44869933)

      There's a well oiled system in place for trading clock ins. If they implement this new technology it will throw a wrench in the works.

      -IANALTC

    • Re:Fraud (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 16, 2013 @11:27PM (#44869947)

      The only "civil liberty" it attacks is the ability to fraudulently sign in for someone else. This is how unions get a bad name. Bio-metrics are used for time card validation on many places and it is neither "draconian" nor "an attack on civil liberties".

      This is The Peter Principle [amazon.com] at work.

      If a superior is incompetent they will often judge the subordinate by "behavior that supports the rules, rituals, and forms of the status quo. Promptness, neatness, courtesy to superiors...." This is evaluating input, not output.

      It's pretty easy to show up, put your hand on the scanner, and half-ass it all day long. Do you want clean tubes? Or do you want employees who make sure to put their hand on the scanner at the right time? When you figure that out, design your checks and metrics accordingly.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        This is evaluating input, not output.

        It's pretty easy to show up, put your hand on the scanner, and half-ass it all day long. Do you want clean tubes? Or do you want employees who make sure to put their hand on the scanner at the right time? When you figure that out, design your checks and metrics accordingly.

        Funny you often don't get an output without input. Efficiency is a hard target to nail, actually getting people to turn up to work and stop screwing the payroll system is a low hanging fruit.

        When people show up, then we can talk about the

        • Just because someone is magically efficient doesn't mean they get to knock off an hour early and have a friend sign them out.

          Why not? Are they paying for time? Or clean tubes? Is the guy that's there all day, maybe doing a shitty job, more valuable than the guy who gets the job done quickly?

          The job being done well is the metric that needs to be evaluated, not the time spent hanging out at work. It's just easier to evaluate numbers (the computer said everyone was there all day), than to evaluate the actual job. Hey, I checked it out, and the tubes are clean.

    • Re:Fraud (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Skapare (16644) on Monday September 16, 2013 @11:29PM (#44869957) Homepage

      The issue is about having the fingerprint data. Business promise things to worker all the time, but their promises are so often just lies (and recently, at least in the US, told to lie by no such agency).

      • Fingerprints for this purpose are usually hashed. I.e. you are not able to reverse it back to a picture of their fingerprint.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

          Fingerprints for this purpose are usually hashed. I.e. you are not able to reverse it back to a picture of their fingerprint.

          For some definitions of "reverse." By "hashed" what you really mean is a list of minutiae - x,y coordinates of significant features like ridges, ridge splits, whorls, loops, etc. The list of minutiae isn't enough to reconstruct the entire fingerprint, but it is enough to make a fake print that will scan and pass as the original print.

          So it won't stand up against a human doing a forensic examination (at least not a human who takes their job seriously) but it will pass an automated system with flying colors

        • by Inda (580031)
          And all hashes generated by the same hashing function are the same.

          if hash == true...

          Unless they are salted, because everyone does that in 2013...

          Stop me if you're laughing too hard to continue.
      • Re:Fraud (Score:5, Informative)

        by tompaulco (629533) on Monday September 16, 2013 @11:46PM (#44870013) Homepage Journal
        This. Where I work, they required us to be fingerprinted and did a background check. Then I found out that they send the prints to the state, and the state keeps them on file. I didn't consent to that.
        Then they wanted me to do a fingerprint for the building I worked in so I can get in after 5:30. As is my legal right, I opted out and they have to provide an alternative means for me to gain entry. Of course, they didn't actually do that, so now if it is after 5:30 and I happen to be outside, I just go home.
        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          The fingerprint data was sent to facilitate the background check. The Underground is not doing that.

        • As is my legal right, I opted out

          Where is that codified?

          • Whatever happened to the concept of unalienable rights? That is, we aren't granted "rights" by the government; rather, we allow the government to infringe upon those rights for the purpose of maintaining a working society. I know it's an American notion and this is a story about workers in Great Britain, but it distresses me to see an increasing belief that it is a government that determines whether or not we are allowed certain rights. It's an attitude that grants them too much power because any rights no

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        What is the issue with having a mathematical representation of one's fingerprint stored by the company? It is not the actual fingerprint on file and there are many different algorithms to encode them. Different company's machines xcan not compre fingerprints and sometimes different versions of the same machine can not. What promise is there to break? Show up, log in correctly and we will pay you? What other promise is there to break?

      • The issue is about having the fingerprint data.

        They could offer to implement smartcards with integrated fingerprint readers. The smartcard verifies the print and the reader verifies the smartcard's attestation.

        Then we'd know whether the tubemasters want the fingerprint data and/or the workers want to trade shifts off the books.

      • The issue is about having the fingerprint data.

        I wouldn't be so quick to leap to that conclusion. All I see in the story is that the move has been attacked as "an attack on civil liberties." This probably means the liberty to get your mate to clock on for you when you're going to be ten minutes late.

    • by chrismcb (983081)

      The only "civil liberty" it attacks is the ability to fraudulently sign in for someone else.

      How about the privacy of their fingerprints. Their employer does not need a record of their fingerprints.
      Another problem with using biometrics for authentication, is one they are compromised, they are compromised forever.

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        A picture of the fingerprint is not stored but only a mathematical representation that are not comparable between machines. It is only compromised until the next encoding algorithm is used.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Posting AC because I work at a company involved with fingerprint biometrics.

          Depending on the type of sensors used and how much of the processing is done at the sensor, the range of usable data that can be retrieved is;

          1. can reconstruct a fingerprint-like pattern that will emulate you sufficiently for that particular sensor model, though it looks nothing like a human fingerprint
          2. can get reasonably close to a fingerprint-like pattern that can fool sensors using similar physical techniques and detection alg

      • by kwbauer (1677400)

        How about the privacy of the physical representation of themselves. The employer needs no record of what an employee looks like. The employer should just blindly accept the word of the employee that the employee came to work.

    • Re:Fraud (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vux984 (928602) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:18AM (#44870183)

      The only "civil liberty" it attacks is the ability to fraudulently sign in for someone else.

      Well, that... and it lets them share the prints with law enforcement, cross check the fingerprints with cases and what not, and subject them to all kinds of harrassment.

      I object to being fingerprinted for any reason, short of with a judge issued warrant. And I object to routine finger printing of individuals who are released without being charged, nevermind individuals who are acquitted.

      I'm certainly not going to hand over my fingerprints just to prove I'm doing a menial job I'm being paid to do. If my employer is concerned the job isn't being done properly, inspect the work being performed -- biometrics showing I clocked in on time don't mean a damned thing.

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        Yet another person who does not know how fingerprint scanners work but feels competent to comment. Fingerprint scanners store a mathematical representation of the fingerprint and not a picture. The representations are not comparable between companies and sometime models from the same company.

        • Fingerprint scanners store a mathematical representation of the fingerprint and not a picture.

          And they can be defeated using a known fingerprint and a gummy candy. So what?

          Both sides have their own goals, and both can be met with an alternate solution. The whole problem can be avoided entirely by competent management, but I'm sure they are hiring supervisors at the minimum wage so competence probably isn't a thing they expect.

          The company probably wants the fingerprint scanners for convenience. It is unlikely (although certainly possible) that they are trying to get the fingerprint data for nefario

          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            On the point of incompetent management. The London Underground is spread out all over London. Workers are spread out all over London. It would take hundreds of supervisors running around station to station all day checking on people to ensure they are actually there doing their job. The London Underground is not a factory floor.

            Most people only have ten fingerprints, it can only be compromised so many times before it is a nasty problem for the individual.

            Sorry but that is overstating the issue. Fingerprint scanner information is not transferable between systems. It is a mathematical representation specific to the company and sometime

            • by Alioth (221270)

              The fingerprint scanners I've worked with are also perfectly capable of giving you an actual image of the fingerprint. How is the employee to know that the police haven't asked London Underground to also capture all the images they get and send it to them for a fishing expedition? They can't.

        • Yet another person who does not know how fingerprint scanners work but feels competent to comment.

          Yet another person who assumes that all fingerprint scanners work in exactly the same way. How do you know this system doesn't store a full scan when the print is taken, even if it's not actually used for verification?

    • The only "civil liberty" it attacks is the ability to fraudulently sign in for someone else.

      Is this sort of fraud currently a problem? If not, then why are they wasting the money on this system? If it is a problem, how do they know this system won't be easy to circumvent? Do they scan a full ten-print (really unlikely) or just the forefinger in which case how hard is it going to be for someone to wear gummy-bear copies [slashdot.org] of their buddies' prints on their other 9 fingers and fraudulently clock them in?

      Bio-metrics are used for time card validation on many places and it is neither "draconian" nor "an attack on civil liberties".

      Treating people like criminals should always be a last resort and if you do it, you better be pre

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        Fraud is only one issue. Costs are another. It takes money and introduces transcription errors to process paper time sheets. Card system also cost more to implement due to issuing initial and lost cards.

        Whether that qualifies under the rubric of civil liberties, I don't know, but it is a socially destructive path to take.

        Then why have any time sheets at all? Why not just pay everyone for the shifts they are scheduled to work? We have been on that path since the industrial revolution. Why is it now a problem? The issue is that there are criminals in the system and to stop them from exploiting the system everyone has to go thr

  • The tube cleaners are refusing to go down in the tub station at midnight (because it's so dangerous).

  • On the fence. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xeno man (1614779) on Monday September 16, 2013 @11:54PM (#44870055)
    I'm currently undecided if this is a good thing or not. On one hand, I'm against technology for the sake of technology. Using computers and touch screens because they are new and fancy is stupid when a pen and paper will do. It's one thing to have biometrics in clean areas like banks and office buildings, it's another to have then in maintenance areas. How long before they start to fail and workers are not getting paid because they can't clock in due to dirt and grease build up.

    On the other hand, They have really failed to outline how their civil liberties are being attacked. To what extent can someones thumbprint be abused and how will this affect workers and their rights. None of that was even attempted to be explained.

    To anyone saying that the workers just want to fraudulently sign in for someone else and abuse the system needs to try again and come up with a real argument. The assumption that workers just want to screw over employers is elitist and is a part of the same poor logic of "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about." It completely side steps the real issues and disguises the technology as only hurting the bad people. While I don't deny that fraud probably happens, there is no way that fraud is the sole reason for rejection of biometrics. Give real reasons for it, not made up reasons for why the are against it.
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      When you lose a RFID card or a password, you can get a new one. When someone hacks into a system and steals your fingerprints, that's it for you. They're compromised for the rest of your life. No system using them as a means of authentication will ever be safe for you, ever again.

      Using biometrics for trivial purposes like this is fucking idiotic. The business is putting its employees security at risk for their entire lives, in order to squeeze a few more man-hours a month out of them.

      I don't see how any

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        Read up on how fingerprint scanners work. They do not store the actual fingerprint.

        • by Alioth (221270)

          It's extremely unlikely the fingerprint scanner device itself does any mathematical transform, much more likely an image is sent to whatever the fingerprint reader is connected to, and code running on this system does the actual work (it makes for a cheaper embedded system if you can use a less powerful microcontroller and offload the work to the server that must be present for the system to work). Compromise the server and you can get the images as they come off the scanner. Or the police can request to ma

          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            Both of these issues can be negotiated in the contract with penalties for breaking said contract. The issue with police is moot because the police could just request one's time card to take finger prints from.

    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      Fraud is one of the reasons but not the only one. Sorry but I have seen too many people sign in for others to blithely dismiss the fraud aspect. There are also other benefits to the bio-metric system;
      - Automatic data entry of exact times of work. With paper systems there needs to be people to transcribe the sign in sheets.
      - Faster log ins. All the worker has to do is swipe a thumb, wait for the beep and done. It is much faster than finding you card, signing it and putting it back.
      Here are the issues with ca

      • Re:On the fence. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by blackest_k (761565) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @03:03AM (#44870773) Homepage Journal

        i know its dependant on the card system but last time I had one the alternative to swiping the card was to punch in the last four digits. This I did on a regular basis because like you said it takes longer to swipe.

        rfid cards are used a lot for door access which has the issue that if you forgot that card then you might not be able to open the door.

        There are positives to using a finger print scanner, you can't forget the card, you can log fairly accurately who was where at a particular time. However logging out is a bit more hit and miss. Too be fair the London Underground has been a terrorist target before now and will be again,although the last time it was suicide bombers among the passengers. It might make sense to use this system for all the employees of the London underground but to single out the cleaners makes no sense if they are the only group using it there is no security advantage.

        The primary objection to use of fingerprints instead of any of the alternatives is fundamentally an issue of trust.
        The main group of people who have fingerprints taken are criminals, are the cleaners criminals?

        As a subset of workers being targeted for this particular type of identification it seems to send the message that they are particularly untrustworthy, how much of a slap in the face is that. There is always a supervisor/ team leader in charge of a particular crew who knows the people working for him and who is on shift and who isn't in any job. Isn't that enough?

        Even if the use of finger print scanners was universal, it wouldn't stop a terrorist, if they need a finger to gain access then they may as well take a finger its just one more casualty. The underground is not secure and cannot be secure and thousands of graffiti tagged trains illustrate that daily.

        It is demoralising for the workforce and the system advantages soon start to fall apart when there is a need for agency workers to fill in for absent employees, it is a lot easier to issue a swipe card than to register a temporary worker on a fingerprint based system.
               

        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          The main group of people who have fingerprints taken are criminals, are the cleaners criminals?

          Many other classes of people are finger printed. In some instances it is require for background checks. Taking the image of one finger and storing a mathematical representation is very different that imaging all ten digits and putting it in a criminal database.

          There is always a supervisor/ team leader in charge of a particular crew who knows the people working for him and who is on shift and who isn't in any job. Isn't that enough?

          Are you sure about that? It could also be one or two workers patrolling a station dealing with issues with no supervisor is present. The London Underground is very spread out.

      • by Alioth (221270)

        The initial hardware for card based systems is far far cheaper though. The cost difference will probably buy an awful lot of cards. The London Underground also has a huge existing network of card readers too, so it's likely they get a very good bulk discount on RFID readers. Millions of commuters manage to find their card while walking to and from a tube train, workers can manage it too (the RFID cards will work through a wallet, you don't even need to get the card out).

        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          RFID cards can be passed along to a mate to fake being there. That is much harder with fingerprints.

  • AKA "Going on strike"..........

    • by GumphMaster (772693) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:47AM (#44870291)

      No, not necessarily. They might adopt a strict work-to-rule regime where workers do absolutely nothing that is not by-the-book, no staying 10 minutes over time to finish a job, no doing a job without that is not covered explicitly in their work agreements, taking every minute of meal breaks, reporting every little maintenance task they find in glorious detail, etc.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        No, not necessarily. They might adopt a strict work-to-rule regime where workers do absolutely nothing that is not by-the-book, no staying 10 minutes over time to finish a job, no doing a job without that is not covered explicitly in their work agreements, taking every minute of meal breaks, reporting every little maintenance task they find in glorious detail, etc.

        Otherwise known as a "slow down". Everything checked and double checked, not an I left undotted or T left uncrossed... No matter how long it takes.

  • Slippery Slope (Score:3, Interesting)

    by litehacksaur111 (2895607) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:30AM (#44870231)
    This is exactly where technology like this will be deployed. They will say you know what it is just a slight inconvenience to the menial tube workers. Then eventually the government and other employers will hand out some no bid contract to some corporation to install these in all places as self identification methods. This technology must be fervently resisted before it is too late. If you don't believe me, just look at the how the TSA is expanding operations from airports to rail stations, highways, and bus depots.
    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      Glad you admitted the "slippery slope" basis. Like all "slipper slope" [wikipedia.org] arguments this one is an informal fallacy. You last statement would be considered a "red herring", another informal fallacy, as the TSA has nothing to do with Underground cleaner time sheets.

      • Actually, a slippery slope argument is only a fallacy when there's not a compelling reason to believe an action will set a hard-to-reverse trend in motion. Slippery slopes do play out in reality sometimes.
  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @01:50AM (#44870531)

    Their data is obviously 100% secure so I don't really see any problems. Cleaning companies are famous for their rigid IT infrastructure, since their operational margin is huge and they have tons of cash to spend. There is also no market for hundreds (thousands?) of fingerprints with matching names and other personal data on a black market. So what could possibly go wrong?

    • by 91degrees (207121)
      They don't store the fingerprints themselves. Just a mathematical represntation of them.

      So what could ou use this for?
      • by ruir (2709173)
        Only the gov (in some countries) and law enfor stores the full fingerprints. You are parroting the classic excuse "only a few points or a mathematical representation". Bullocks. Your mathematical representation, in slashdot crowd parlance terms, in a reality an hash function that will map 99.xxx% of the time to a fingerprint, or maybe a couple of them at the worse of possibilities.
  • How is the scanning of a fingerprint to clock in and out of work a violation of civil liberties, exactly?

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