28 November 2007

Last post for ID cards?

The silver lining from the cloud that is the loss of personal data by HM Revenue and Customs is the unexpected doubts it has cast over the future of ID cards. It exposes the "honeypot" flaw: in designing a database big enough to hold all the necessary records, its very size makes it too high-risk if something goes wrong.

Ministers have been quick to try to turn something very negative into a positive. The curiously culpable argument goes that if we all had biometric ID cards, then the loss of our data by, say, a recklessly cavalier approach to handling other people's information by the government wouldn't matter.

However, I think it throws up another contradiction that I have yet to hear an answer to - the more useful an ID card supposedly becomes, the higher the risk of data theft. If you create an enormous database which will simultaneously protect the UK from terrorism, benefits fraud, illegal immigration, credit card fraud and overdue library books, think of all the number of people who will need to, potentially, access such a database. Multiply that by the number of different government departments employing "junior staff" and the chance of a breach moves from being likely to inevitable.

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