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UK ID card a recipe for massive ID fraud, says Microsoft exec

National tech officer IDs systemic design flaws

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Microsoft UK National Technology Officer Jerry Fishenden has warned that the UK ID card scheme could trigger "massive identity fraud on a scale beyond anything we have seen before." Writing in today's Scotsman, Fishenden says that the security implications of storing biometrics centrally are enormous. "Unlike other forms of information such as credit card details," he says, "if core biometric details such as your fingerprints are compromised, it is not going to be possible to provide you with new ones."

Although he says that a "well-designed UK national identity card could help tackle many problems," Fishenden clearly feels that the current UK scheme does not qualify. He points to the 'honeypot effect' of putting a comprehensive set of personal data in one place, thus producing a "richly rewarding target for criminals," and says that we "should not be building systems that allow hackers to mine information so easily... Inappropriate technology design could provide new hi-tech ways of perpetrating massive identity fraud on a scale beyond anything we have seen before: the very problem the system was intended to prevent."

The current design also hands out too much personal information with too little discrimination: "The ID card itself also needs to be carefully designed to ensure it doesn't add to identity fraud problems by carelessly 'broadcasting' personal information every time it's used. Would you be happy if online auction sites, casinos or car rental company employees are given the same identity information that provides you with access to your medical records? It's unnecessary: we can already design systems that ensure the disclosure of personal information is restricted only to the minimum information required (a pub landlord for example needs only to know that you are over 18). Keeping identity information relevant to the context in which it is used is both good privacy and good security practice."

Fishenden's Commentary piece for the Scotsman does not appear to be generally available in the paper's electronic version, but much of it is quoted in an accompanying piece, available here. In addition, the attack on the ID scheme by the "Microsoft expert" is given the front page headline, "ID cards will lead to 'massive fraud'", an editorial demanding an immediate rethink ("Mr McNulty's ID scheme is a Dr Who fantasy which only diverts attention from the real war on terror") and a critical article from SNP leader Alex Salmond. It's about time the Scotsman got off the fence and told us where it stands, we reckon.

Parliamentary spinwatch: Home Secretary Charles Clarke was today due to announce last minute 'guarantees' concerning the data to be held on the National Identity Register. According to the spin fed to the national press, he will promise that extra personal details will only be included via the introduction of fresh primary legislation, and the NIR will not include any numbers that could lead to the disclosure of sensitive personal details. Police National Computer and National Health Service identifiers are allegedly covered here, which one might take to mean that Clarke is making sure that the ID card cannot be used to check your police or your health records.

Except, er, for a couple of things. The enthusiasm of Clarke and Tony Blair for the deployment of the ID card to speed Criminal Records Bureau checks does rather suggest that it'll be some use in checking for criminal records. And it is rather difficult to conceive of how it will defend us against the (largely fictional) threat of health tourism if it is not in some way possible for the NHS to connect the ID card with a valid NHS record. We know how it works with or without numbers, but if Clarke knows he's not letting on. ®

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