Entitlement card scheme poses security challenge

The success of the Government's proposals to introduce entitlement cards will hinge on its ability to meet the security...

The success of the Government's proposals to introduce entitlement cards will hinge on its ability to meet the security challenges posed by such a major IT project, IT experts have warned.

A week after home secretary David Blunkett launched a plan for potentially the largest identity card system the UK has ever seen, Martin Sexton of systems integration and implementation specialist London Market Systems said there were serious doubts over the Government's ability to build the system.

"Given that the record of government-sponsored IT projects has not been on the whole unblemished, I can see that the major risk will be that of security," he said.

Sexton highlighted the difficulties of rolling out the technology elements of a project as complex as entitlement cards. "With secure [IT] projects, one would normally compartmentalise the development so that no one individual knows the whole picture," he explained.

"It is unclear how this will work in the case of entitlement cards as the IT will be integrating with a number of diverse service providers such as the DVLA, national insurance records systems and Customs and Excise, which currently run in isolation."

Sexton also warned that the project's security considerations extend far beyond the entitlement card itself. "The security weak point may not be the entitlement card itself but the integration software, the network or even the central computer systems themselves," he said.

Last week Blunkett launched a consultation paper to assess whether the public would find an entitlement card useful for accessing services and effective in tackling illegal immigration.

Entitled "Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud", the paper also looked at whether biometric information such as fingerprints or iris images should be recorded to prevent people establishing false identities for nefarious purposes.

The consultation paper acknowledged that the project will be "complex and subject to the risks confronted by all large-scale IT projects".

It also said the Government will not proceed with the scheme without a full cost-benefit analysis, and a proper risk assessment of the challenges posed by the procurement and the roll out.

A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed it is still "very early days" for any government entitlement card scheme. "We welcome the prospect of a very vigorous debate on the issue of entitlement cards," she said.

The closing date for responses to the Home Office's consultation is paper is 10 January 2003.

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