ID card costs soar as supplier slams technology

The UK government's national identity card scheme is too complex and the biometric technology it will be based on has not been...

The UK government's national identity card scheme is too complex and the biometric technology it will be based on has not been tested widely enough, according to the consultancy involved in the Hong Kong ID card scheme.

Steve Everhard, chief executive officer of smartcard specialist Multos said the UK government's plans for national database of biometric information - such as fingerprint scans, to be matched against information stored on a ID card - would be a time-consuming and difficult process.

He was speaking after the Home Secretary David Blunkett, revealed that the public would have to pay £85 for a biometric passport and a separate identity card to offset the £500m a year cost of the programme.

Everhard said that UK trials of biometric technology for ID cards were too small to give a true picture of how the technology will perform when used by tens of millions of citizens.

"I worry about some of the UK trials," said Everhard. "Don't do a trial [for a national ID card scheme] with 30,000 people. Unless you do it with 30 million people you will not learn a thing."

Multos has advised the Hong Kong government on its ID card scheme, which is currently being rolled out, and provided the operating system for the smartcards.

The scheme, which uses fingerprint scans and a facial scan, is designed to police border control between China and Hong Kong. By the end of 2005 all full-time residents of Hong Kong are due to have been issued with an ID card, replacing the old paper passes.

Everhard said the scheme benefited from having a clear purpose - to make border controls between China and Hong Kong more effective. The benefits of the ID card scheme have also been sold to Hong Kong residents in a big advertising campaign, he added.

The UK's £3.1bn ID card scheme, which is due to be rolled out from 2007, will pose formidable technical challenges according to experts. Critics have also questioned whether an ID card scheme will help track down terrorists, as claimed by the government.

Last month the Home Office abandoned plans to combine biometric national identity cards with passports and driving licences following criticisms that the scheme was poorly thought out.

The Home Office said it would press ahead with a standalone biometric ID card that would be issued alongside a biometric passport to head off concerns about the complexity of the technology.

The US government will require all British citizens travelling to the USA to present biometric passports from October next year.

Biometric passports will cost £415m a year to run and ID cards will cost a further £85m on top of that, Blunkett told MPs on the Home Affairs Committee this week.

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