e-democ / e-gov

Am I who you think I am? Identity and passports

Ella got her first passport yesterday – a British one with new-fangled biometric data and RFID chip to boot. Some observations:

* The new process involves printing a scan of the holder’s photo directly onto the page. The resulting quality is rather poor.

* The whole information page is now like a giant inflexible smart card due to the ultra-heavy-duty lamination and chip. Which begs the question, why not just use proven smart card technology which is more secure than RFID?

* The chip and aerial are visible and look vulnerable. I wonder what happens if they break? Does the passport fail to be valid in places like the USA?

* There doesn’t appear to be any shielding in the cover to prevent skimming of the RFID chip. I’m not going to count on some unspecified encryption so I’m definitely in the market for some kind of shielding passport holder. Probably more than one as the Home Office lost both my wife’s and my passport so we’ll end up chipped soon enough.

Passport RFID chip

I was in the bank the other day when a women in front of me went up to the counter and asked to take out £2,500 from her account. She couldn’t have her money though as she hadn’t brought her driving license or passport. We’ve heard this one before but it gets better… Her passport had expired a year ago and she only had an old driving license at home (without photo etc). This perplexed the rather rude young lady behind the counter who had to speak to a supervisor who called a manager.

I never saw the conclusion to this little saga though I was offered a savings account at an abominably poor interest rate because I paid a few hundred quid into my account. Harrumph.

I love the fact that, for now, identity is distributed so that you can use a wide variety of documents to prove yourself. I’m sure the bank would have gone back to the actual rules and accepted something other than a passport or driving license because of course nobody has to have either of those. In fact you should probably get a tax break for being without both as you must be a particularly environmentally friendly soul.

We are all doomed to go to hell in a handbasket when the new national ID programme comes into force. Thankfully our civil service is doing their best to undermine the programme before it gets going – excellent work chaps.

These uber-passport and ID card projects remind me ever so much of electronic voting. The basic chronology is something like:

1. Politician hears about some new-fangled technology and decides it’s a good idea.
2. Raises idea with colleagues who all think technology is “good” and tell him to go for it.
3. Politician tells civil servants to get cracking on it.
4. Civil servants have no knowledge or expertise about this technology but do their best.
5. Either the project never gets completed because it’s not feasible or something is made at huge expense which is insecure and a white elephant.
6. Politician quietly moves on to another pet project.

For the sake of my taxes I sincerely hope ID cards croak before we get much further.