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Home Office publishes bold do-nothing initiative

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The Home Office's approach to mobile payment security parrots exactly what the industry is already doing: publishing guidelines for a technology that nobody wants or ever intends to use.

Never let it be said that the UK Home Office doesn't move quickly: contactless payments from mobile phones have been dead in the water for less than a year and already the department is issuing guidelines on how to prevent thieves exploiting the technology, though really it's just endorsing what the industry has been doing for years.

Contactless payments are already a reality, as anyone who's received a Barclays Connect card in the last six months will know. Transactions less than a tenner can be completed by waving the card in front of a reader, while those of more than a tenner still require a PIN to be entered, which also happens on a random basis.

The new guidelines from the Home Office recommend the same thing apply to mobile phones with contactless technology built in, adding only that customers should be encouraged to report if their phone is stolen.

The mobile industry would love to see contactless payment tech built into mobile phones. Unfortunately, they disagree as to how it should be implemented to such an extent that it's unlikely ever to happen. The SIM industry feels very strongly that the SIM should handle everything, while the handset manufacturers think they should build in the technology. The operators don't care either way as long as they get control - which neither of the other groups is prepared to concede.

Perhaps in a decade or two something like Nokia Money might gain a contactless capability - Nokia is the biggest backer of the technology - but until then we'll stick to plastic cards for most things.

But that's not going to stop the Home Office consulting and publishing guidelines, promoted with quotes from the UK Cards Association and Jack Wraith, who apparently represents the mobile phone industry.

The latter gains his credibility from being chair of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum (MICAF), an impressively-named group but one we know little about: we do know that Nokia and the other big manufacturers pulled out of MICAF when it became clear the finger was being pointed in their direction, but the Forum declined to provide us with a membership list, or confirm which operators were still signed up.

So we're not clear who exactly Jack is representing when he says "The mobile phone industry welcomes the support of the government and police in the ongoing fight to prevent criminals from benefiting from mobile phone theft," though to be fair the industry is unlikely to be dead set against the idea.

So we now have guidelines endorsed by an individual of unknown provenance and aimed at an industry which doesn't exist, recommending that we do exactly what we're already doing.

It makes one proud to be British. ®

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