Monday, May 3, 2010

The UK ID Cards System: Still A Misty Affair

Well it’s time for another general election in the UK but not perhaps with the same enthusiasm as for a general erection which was overheard at the dinner table with some Japanese colleagues earlier this month. However at such a time ones thoughts are raised into what is happening to all those little projects so close to our heart. The UK national ID card is always top of the agenda and so quiet recently, the government still mentions the cards given to foreign migrants but for distribution to the nation as a whole, Mmm… I don’t think so.

Just scanning the various election manifestos is always fun, joking really, I don’t think I’ve got the patience but any way those that do such as the London School of Economics (LSE) academics Dr Edgar Whitley and Dr Gus Hosein are happy to tell me that only the Labour Party manifesto has a commitment to deliver ID cards. According to Mark Ballard a fellow journalist The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) is so shady about how they are building the ID cards system that nobody actually knows what’s coming or going, if anything that is.

More precisely we are sure that both the conservative party and the Liberal Democrats are on record that they will cancel the national ID card project and a lot that goes with it including the National Identity Register. The LibDems at least have also promised to scrap the next generation of biometric passports that were to include fingerprints. All the current chip passports include a photograph and those of you zooming through Gatwick will have seen the new gates that look at you compared with the picture in the chip. I would have to say that my initial experiences suggest that this works far better than the Iris scan which has been removed and also seems to be more reliable as the old Iris scan gates often seemed to be out of action.

But let’s not stop the fun here how about getting on the buses? Are we going to have anything more than a flash card? A piece of cardboard would be far cheaper here than the latest smart card gizmo. Will ITSO rule the waves and end up as the transport card of choice? Positively running out of breath here but then we have stories that maybe the next government in saving money will have to quash all these travel concessionary cards anyway. That of course would be the end of the buses in anything but the centre of the major cities, rural bus travel would rapidly come to an end because those of you that have tried will know it’s made up almost entirely of concessionary fare riders. Somebody once told me that half of them do it just to keep warm and the other half just to have somebody to chat to. On such grounds alone buses provide an essential social service.

You may remember that Michael Leach was appointed interim CEO of ITSO back in February for a couple of months. Can I really believe you would appoint a CEO for a couple of months? I must have got that wrong? Anyway rumour has it that his contract has now been extended for a couple of years so at least there is time to make a mark.

Now what would we like to see him do? I’ve no doubt if I threw this out for public opinion that the skies would be as misty as ever. However I’ll offer a view that may not go down very well but is sadly needed. ITSO is based on backward compatibility; it has been the problem from day one. Whatever you put in place for interoperable fare payments must interoperate with what already exists. If you take this as a starting point it would be OK as long as you had a future migration path into something better, this is what ITSO has never done concentrating instead on patching the system and floating around to try and optimise integration with the Oyster card scheme in London. In both camps we see a move toward the Mifare DESFire in replacement for the Mifare Classic which has been successfully hacked a few times recently. I’ve even heard there have been problems with the DESFire cards in that lots of the underground gates can’t read the cards correctly. Somebody even told me the other day that the Oyster cards don’t even have an expiry date?

So message to ITSO, stop what you are doing and create a realistic 5 year plan for the future and just to give you encouragement remember the banks managed to change from magnetic stripe cards to chip cards not perhaps without problems but as I’m sure everyone will agree to a far better technical solution. Oh and by the way the technologies are not interoperable they do quite different things!


1 comment:

  1. Does anyone know where I can find deep technical information about smart card ?. I'm doing a report for the company I'm working for.