After a week like that, what does John Reid do about ID cards?
28 January 2007

Business Consultancy Services Ltd (BCSL) publishes its eighth ID card strategy document for the present Home Secretary.

Last week did not help the Home Office’s reputation for competence. At some point soon, commentators will remember that this same Home Office has been entrusted with accurately registering the identities of 50m people in the UK, and maintaining those identities securely, at a cost to the nation of about £20bn. The BCSL document published today suggests an appropriate response to the likely comments.

The Home Office's plans for passports, ID cards and visas stand or fall on the reliability of biometrics, specifically biometrics based on fingerprints. The non-traditional fingerprint technology being used for ID cards here and overseas is about 81% reliable. That was the experience of the UKPS biometrics trial. That is the daily experience of US-VISIT. For 81% of people, they work. 19% of people are excluded. In a UK population of 50m cardholders, 9.5m of them would not be able to use their fingerprints to verify their identity.

That is the state of the art, and yet repeated government announcements and publications continue to speak of biometrics as though they have near-100% reliability. So which is it? 81%? Or 100%?

It is recommended that Home Office officials and consultants should be grilled. Can they prove that the 99%+ reliability needed is actually within the Home Office’s grasp? If not, if they just have their fingers crossed, then what does the Home Secretary do?

BCSL's answer is dematerialised ID, an ID cards scheme, with no cards. Mobile phones are used instead. Dematerialised ID is the result of four years of research and, unlike the Home Office’s smart card plans, there are no known wrongs with it.

If the Home Office do have a near-100% reliable biometrics technology, then it is one of the better kept secrets in the world.

With only 81% reliable biometrics, the Home Office's promises for biometric passports, ID cards and visas will be undeliverable. Not only that, but the Department for Work and Pensions plans to streamline benefits will suffer. And behind the scenes, Sir James Crosby's public/private forum on identity management is examining the case for introducing biometrics into the UK's payment systems. That would reduce us quickly to a barter economy.

For the full report, while you can still afford to, please see

About Business Consultancy Services Ltd (BCSL):
BCSL has operated as an IT consultancy since 1984. The past four years have been spent investigating mobile phone-based identity management.

Press contacts: David Moss,