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Exam results by SMS? E-government goes mobile

Not a runner, we fear, but they may be on the right track...

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The E-Envoy's CEO of e-delivery Alan Mather has come up with a whole new e-delivery channel for government services - the mobile phone. In today's issue of Computing,* Mather suggests that children could receive their exam results in a text message, while the infrastructure delivering this and other government services could also be used by private sector companies, such as banks.

There would however appear to be a couple of flaws in his intriguing suggestions. Such services, he says, won't be possible until mobile phones ship with digital certificates embedded in them; this is fair enough, on the basis that mobile phones are being viewed by manufacturers and service providers as a substitute for a credit card and/or ID, and digital certificates are being embedded in mobile phones already. But although a reasonable proportion of adults can be relied on to be approximately as good at hanging onto their phones as their credit cards and passports, do we believe this of our children?

That's why be buy them pay as you go phones, and threaten to do likewise for certain Register editors. Plus, if phones give access to personal and financial data, they could provide even more reason for children to be mugged for them. Not of course that we're suggesting teen villains are going to want to steal GCSE results - at least, we don't think so.

There's also the logistical question. Currently exam results are sent, sometimes electronically, to the schools and then passed on to the pupils. We do however doubt the examining bodies' and/or schools' willingness and capability to collate and distribute results in secure SMS form. Or indeed as email, or posted on a secure web site. Reality check: just yesterday The Register supplied sprog one's school with a single first class stamp, GCSE result delivery for the use of. Under the circumstances we do not expect them to be asking us to stump up for our share of an SMS server in the foreseeable future.

Mather is perhaps more on track as regards the general use of mobile phones for identification purposes. Of themselves they are more personal and (probably) more secure than a PC, so could be used on their own to send and receive sensitive data. You're probably not going to want to file your tax return on a dinky Nokia, but such a beast could be used in conjunction with a PC for security purposes. Indeed, this already happens with Vizzavi, where you're sent a code on your mobile that validates your communication with the site. Regrettably, in The Register's experience this working is currently the high point of the service.

In principle, however, the phone as digital certificate could provide a solution to the Government Gateway's current certificates problem. If, on the other hand, the cunning plan involves the deployment of large numbers of SMS and MMS servers to provide secure e-government push services, we fear we see another problem or two... ®

* We've recently been erroneously referring to the author of this piece, Steve Ranger, as an Accountancy Age writer. Steve in fact writes for Computing, sorry Steve. But they're fine papers both.

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