ID cards roll-out starts in Manchester – security industry concerned

Initially, the ID card scheme will be voluntary and available to passport holders aged 16 or over in Manchester for an introductory cost of £30. Airside workers at Manchester Airport will be the first see the introduction of the ID cards this autumn.

As the scheme goes national around 2012, the Home Office envisages that people can get their ID cards from post offices, pharmacies or retailers. The gradual roll-out is said to ensure that “card take-up and technological capabilities build up side by side. It will also give everyone involved in the process a chance to become familiar with the cards and how they can be used."

Infosecurity notes that this could indicate that technology and implementation are still issues in this scheme, which has attracted criticism from security and data protection experts and interest groups.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, said, however, that the card represents “a vital investment in the long term future of this country’s economy and security”. She also added that people will benefit “from being able to quickly provide their biometrics while they are out doing the shopping”.

Other benefits highlighted by the Home Office include an estimated cost saving of £6bn over the next 30 years from having what it calls a “secure, nationally accepted ID system”; protection from identity fraud; making it harder to build false identities; and improved access to public services.

Security industry sceptical

Jamie Cowper, Director of Marketing EMEA at data protection and encryption provider PGP Corporation, said: “The purpose of ID cards is to increase security in the UK, but they may in fact have the opposite effect.”

He warned that high street outlets may be able to process and record the data in a secure manner, but that “there remains serious concern about how all this information will be centrally stored by the Government” – especially in light of the numerous public sector data breaches over the last year.

Cowper urged the Government to use proven technology such as encryption to protect citizen data, as this “is the only way to keep personal data absolutely safe”.

John Barker, General Manager at UK-based biometric and document security provider TSSI, said the ID cards will cost £30-60 each to produce, and that it could take up to five years to develop appropriate supporting systems.

“The estimated cost of the project to the Home Office is about £5bn, but Dr Whitley of the London School of Economics (LSE) estimates that the last four years has already seen astronomical costs of between £10-20bn”, Barker commented. This figure is far above Home Secretary Smith's estimated savings of £6bn over 30 years.

He also criticised the Home Office’s claim that the ID cards could help combat impersonation, ID theft and fraud, saying that biometric technology alone is not sufficient to prevent fraud: “For example, the Dutch biometric passports were cracked soon after launching, despite strong encryption.”

Echoing PGP’s Cowper’s call for encryption, Barker said: “Storing the data as an algorithmic encryption makes it impossible for even the most sophisticated fraudster to read or substitute. Even authorised personnel – and therefore any successful hackers – would only be able to view binary code, and not the finger, iris or facial data itself. They would also be unable to replicate the algorithm to clone the card. However, this method of encryption goes beyond the scope of the ID cards currently proposed.”

Hoping to alleviate fears over the protection of personal data, Government officials have said that the amount of personal data to be collected and stored for the ID cards would be no greater than for passports, according to a BBC news report.

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