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UK gov unleashes biometric IDs

£4.7bn for cards. £0 for card readers

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The British Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has spent £4.7bn ($6.6bn) on its new biometric ID card system. But it has not established a timeline for a card-reader rollout.

Without the necessary card readers, the biometric information such as fingerprint scans stored in the cards is inaccessible and therefore useless for ID verification.

In a statement released on January 29, the IPS reiterated its schedule for releasing the cards, beginning with over 50,000 foreign nationals by this April, then airport workers in the fall of 2009, and leading up to full availability in 2011 and 2012 "to the wider population on an entirely voluntary basis."

But Silicon.com reports that no police stations, border entry points, or job centres are equipped to actually read the cards. And IPS planning documents make no mention of card readers.

When Silicon.com talked with Identity minister Meg Hillier about the cards, she told them that the biometric information was a "vital part" of the ID system. But only if you can read the fingerprint information. The card readers aren't ready. And they won't be for some time.

To be fair - actually, to bend over backwards being fair - we note that Hiller told Silicon.com that "We have always said that we would roll out the scheme incrementally."

But there's a difference between an incremental roll-out and an unplanned one.

According to Hiller, "There's no prospect in the immediate future for the government directing anybody that you have to buy those things [readers] because we would be placing a burden on these organisations.

"The manufacturers of the machines have also got to decide whether it is worth their while to produce them."

And without card readers, British citizens will need to decide whether it is worth their while to acquire the cards. "On an entirely voluntary basis," of course. ®

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