IBM Researcher Slams UK ID Card Scheme
by Manek Dubash, TechWorld, May 20, 2006
Saturday, May 20, 2006 12:15:23 PM
researcher Michael Osborne, whose job is research into secure ID
cards, slated the
UK government's ID cards scheme on the grounds of cost, over-centralisation,
and being the wrong tool for the job.
Based in Big Blue's Zurich research labs, where the scanning
tunnelling microscope was invented and won its inventors a Nobel
Prize, Osborne said that the problem is neither the cards nor the
fact that the scheme is intended to use biometric technology.
The big issue is that the UK government, plans to set up a central
database containing volumes of data about its citizens. Unlike other
European governments, most of whom already use some form of ID card,
the central database will allow connections between different
identity contexts - such as driver, taxpayer, or healthcare
recipient - which compromises security. Centrally-stored biometric
data would be attractive to hackers, he said, adding that such data
could be made anonymous but that the UK Government's plans do not
include such an implementation.
Osborne added that biometric technology is still immature. "It's not
an exact science", he said. In real world trials, some 10 per cent
of people identified using iris recognition failed to enrol - which
means the system didn't recognise them. Even fingerprinting is no
panacea, as four per cent failed to enrol. Scale that up to a whole
population - the UK contains nearly 60 million people - and the
problem of biometric identification becomes huge, he said.
Osborne also criticised the government for the potential cost of the
system. He said that it will cost a lot more than anyone thinks,
pointing out that a project of this size hasn't been tried before,
so the government's projected costs are not necessarily accurate.
Finally, Osborne also used a dozen criteria, including whether or
not such as system is mandatory or time-limited , to show that on
all but two, the UK Government's scheme fails - even before
controversial civil liberties issues are considered.
And as for whether ID cards are the right tool to defeat terrorists
in the first place, security expert Osborne said: "ID cards won't
solve the problem because terrorists don't care about identification
- and they'll have valid IDs anyway. The issue is the central
"But no-one knows if it'll work, or if it'll be accurate enough -
it's more about perceived security than actual security."
Osborne suggested an alternative, which involved keeping the data on
the card. With such a system, only the template is downloaded and
identity processing happens on the card using Java and local data
rather using centralised storage and processing.
He added that since terrorists wanted to be identified, having an ID
card was unlikely to be a deterrent. "However, in some previous
studies, some criminals were found to be deterred by the need to
possess an ID card."
Osborne's remarks were made in a personal capacity during a visit to
the Zurich labs, and did not reflect IBM's corporate viewpoint.
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