The U.S. is beginning to find out the hard way that adopting a digital ID card system isn't as simple as it seems. U.S. passport cards were recently easily hacked in a proof-of-concept attack covered here on DailyTech. However, security concerns aside, ID cards have other problems as well.
Britain's ID card program has become the poster child for problems of the weird variety. The program seemed very promising, with the intention of putting a wealth of information at law enforcement's fingertips and making it harder for criminals to enter or exit the country. The carding program, run by the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), cost $6.6B USD (£4.7B). The IPS offered cards with a wealth of data including biographical data as well as facial and fingerprint scans.
While such information would certainly be helpful to law enforcement efforts, there was one critical problem. British officials forgot to buy readers for the cards.
A news site, Silicon.com, submitted a FoI (Freedom of Information) request to the IPS, which responded by revealing that currently no police stations, border entry points, or job centers have readers for the card's biometric chip. Without readers, the card essentially becomes just a photo ID; no more or less secure than a standard drivers license, albeit at a much higher cost.
Identity minister Meg Hillier, ironically, had just told the site the previous week that the fingerprinting information was a "vital part" of the program as "fingerprint coded into the chip … links you to the card." Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling was quick to attack the floundering program. He states, "Once again ministers have shown that the ID card project is absolutely farcical. What is the point of spending billions of pounds on cards that can't be read in the UK?"
Cambridge University security expert Richard Clayton agreed, stating, "If this capability is not there then the biometrics are, in short, a waste of time. I would have thought that the government would have tried to get the readers rolled out as soon as possible as it is only when you get serious deployments that you start to learn what can go wrong."
No definite timetable has been set for the rollout of the readers. The IPS has stated previously that it plans to roll them out, but they may cost British citizens even more taxpayer money.
Furthermore, many of its officials seem indifferent to the idea and seem quite content not to push for the installation of any readers at all. States IPS's Hiller, "We have always said that we would roll out the scheme incrementally. The card will not be as useful as it could be until we have got the volumes out there. There's no prospect in the immediate future for the government directing anybody that you have to buy those things [readers] because we would be placing a burden on these organisations."
She continues, "The manufacturers of the machines have also got to decide whether it is worth their while to produce them. I think that organisations will decide in time that it is better, quicker and cheaper to have them."
The government plans to start issuing the cards to all airport workers and international volunteers later this year and to gradually roll them out to the rest of the population. The IPS claims that when this happens, the number of readers will naturally grow, but provides no plans of how this will be done or indication that it will encourage it.