Sunday, February 08, 2009

They have the watches, but we have all the time

Ha. Ha. Ha.

So, how are those ID cards going? It seems that despite the government's fanfare, repeated several times, of announcing the issue of the first ID cards, it is impossible to check anyone's card because there are no card readers.

Of course, it's actually worse than that - even if the card readers had been issued, they would be entirely useless, because the heart of the entire ID project doesn't exist yet. The point of the readers is to look up data from the card against the National Identity Register's monster database. But the NIR doesn't exist yet, either, and there are still no signs of any substantive work in progress. One small contract has been issued to Thales, but beyond that...silence.

So, the launch of the ID card programme, the climax of Liam "I used to be an IT consultant, me" Byrne's 300 day delivery plan, has consisted purely in distributing a few bits of plastic of no practical purpose whatsoever. The target groups for the first cards were foreign students and airport workers. So far, the universities have shown unwillingness to take part, and the unions representing pilots and airside workers have threatened to strike.

I'm actually really impressed by the sheer obstructive dumb strength of the public on this; the government has tried to get the doctors, the aviation industry, the social services, the universities, and the business community to deploy card readers, and the result is quite literally sweet fuck all. It's positively Sicilian; politicians and officials flap their arms and speechify and manoeuvre their police force, and on the ground, none of it makes a blind bit of difference.

I was wondering whether any cards have actually been issued. There have been expensive press events, cards have been brandished by ministers; but the issuing of cards to airside personnel has been repeatedly put off, and the trial at Manchester remained a trial.

So how many cards are actually in the wild? Guy Herbert of NO2ID reckons he's yet to encounter one documented case of an identity card being issued. This may be a brilliant solution - faced with the scheme's mountainous problems, the State might simply decide to pretend to issue the cards.

Come to think of it, this might be ideal; the control bureaucrats would remain employed, their contractors would share in a modest stream of income, some of which would inevitably be kicked back in the form of directorships and sinecures for old officials, honour would be satisfied, and an unseemly confrontation with the public forever delayed. It would indeed be an Italian sort of solution.

It is, after all, called the National Identity Scheme. And whether you think of a tax-evasion scheme, or a decaying tower block in Scotland - another technologically flawed white elephant imposed on the working class by the state - you've got to admit it's appropriate.


Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

Ahh, but the project is even worse than you say, since most of the time (read, almost ALL of the time) the cards would not be checked against the central database but only against the local copy of the data on the card.

So, the biometrics the person presents (which they control) are being checked against the copy on the smartcard in their possession.

Now, doesn't this start ringing a few alarm bells? If it doesn't, it bloody well should do! All it takes is for someone to work out how to reverse engineer the card, possibly by using some form of brute force decryption or possibly by bribing a person in whatever den of thieves controls the master keys, and we have a situation where ANYONE can create smartcards which read as true to the card readers, provided they aren't checked against the central database.

As soon as this form of forgery becomes common, the cards lose credibility and become useless.

John Hughes said...

Well, without the biometrics and so on I actually know someone who has a real-fake French carte d'identite nationale, with no central file behind it.

It's a nice little earner for crooked cops.

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