Thought for the day Biometrics won't stop the card sharps

ID cards won't stop terrorists, says Simon Moores

Simon Moores  

What exactly is a trusted identity? Simon Moores can't answer this question, and he's certain that the Home Office, can't either.




The government publicity on identity cards of the past week or so was all rather worthy of a Bremner, Bird and Fortune sketch.

There were lots of photo opportunities for Home Office ministers to wave examples of the new cards around. There were the claims that 80% of the public questioned in a Mori poll were convinced that the cards, which will carry one’s name and age and date and will be linked to a national database, will offer solid and irrevocable proof of identity.

The home secretary argues that his £3bn scheme to introduce ID cards will help fight against organised crime, illegal immigration, terrorism, identity fraud and "health tourism", but then nobody actually has to carry one, although they will have to produce a card within a limited time period if asked by the police.

David Blunkett's identity cards bill will also include the power to issue biometric-only cards.

So, no photograph then, just a fingerprint, conveniently ignoring a report published earlier this year in New Scientist that claims there is little scientific basis for the infallibility of fingerprints, and that what research there is, is fatally flawed.

What's more, I could not imagine any other European Union state suffering angst over having photographs of the bearer on ID cards or even passports, and the suggestion that anyone might, successfully, object to having a personal photograph displayed on an identity card is bizarre, to say the least.

Add to this, the conviction, that government will be unable to execute the ID programme without the inevitable public sector IT fiasco and we have a recipe for ‘Son of Pathway’, the billion-pound information and communications technology project for the Post Office & Benefits Agency, which was supposed to tackle the annual £1.3bn burden of identity fraud and swiftly became the public sector IT equivalent of the millennium dome.

If the man in the street believes that government has very little chance of rolling out any ID card programme without incident, then I would expect that the confidence level within the IT industry and among Computer Weekly readers would be proportionately lower, given their grasp of history and lower levels of expectation.

After all, last week, a leaked Cabinet Office document suggested that as much as £20bn has been wasted in the public sector since Labour came to power in 1997 and I’m prepared to bet that the identity card programme will cost at least half a much again as the home secretary is asking for, before the technology and the practical issues are resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

And what exactly constitutes a "trusted identity" in Britain today? I can’t easily answer this question and I’m not sure the Home Office can either, as it appears to involve presenting three documents, which themselves could be the products of identity theft.

However, any potential terrorist will be aware of a new offence to be announced by David Blunkett, "possession of a false document", which carries maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, slightly less than the sentence for being convicted of exploding in a public place, so it’s likely that he or she will have ditched his suitcase full of passports, paid the £35 and dutifully placed a thumbprint – not a photo, mind you – on a brand new UK ID card.

So that's all right, then.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security .

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit 

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