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UK Can't Read Its Own ID Cards 205

An anonymous reader writes "Despite the introduction of ID cards last November, it has emerged that Britain has no readers that are able to read the cards' microchips, which contain the person's fingerprints and other biometric information. With cops and border guards unable to use the cards to check a person's identity, critics are calling the £4.7bn scheme 'farcical' and a 'waste of time.'"
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UK Can't Read Its Own ID Cards

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  • by IBBoard ( 1128019 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:16AM (#26734851) Homepage

    While I won't go as far as being paranoid about "it was always the governments plan and they just want the data on everyone", it doesn't surprise me that our government isn't even capable of introducing both halves of an ID scheme at the same time.

    Until they fix it they've basically just introduced an over-expensive photo ID. Well done, Labour!

    • by segedunum ( 883035 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @07:16AM (#26735325)

      While I won't go as far as being paranoid about "it was always the governments plan and they just want the data on everyone", it doesn't surprise me that our government isn't even capable of introducing both halves of an ID scheme at the same time.

      I'm even more cynical than that. While the government will probably get some data on people, judging from other such projects that have gone before it will be extremely poorly coordinated and it will be a far bigger security risk than anything else because they won't be able to keep a lid on the data. It just strikes me that a lot of companies have got cosy with the government, promising them things that are almost certainly not going to work in order to fleece them of billions of pounds. Billions of borrowed pounds in the current climate, that is.

    • by RegularFry ( 137639 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @07:46AM (#26735427)

      I'm more convinced by "it was always the government's plan and they just wanted to dole out juicy contracts to the private sector."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zumbs ( 1241138 )
      I think that it's more a question of whipping up fear in the population and then reap the popularity by appearing to "do something" to keep the population safe (and docile?). In any case, the fact that the ID cards can't be read, pretty clearly suggests that the "increased safety" argument were a load of horse manure.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zeldorf ( 1448633 )
      It's actually worse than that, because they are so rare no one really knows what they look like!

      On two seperate occaisions I've seen someone trying to use national ID cards as proof of age when buying alcohol. Both times they were refused because the staff didn't recognise the card.

      The whole thing is a total waste of time and (our) money, all with the goal of filling a void that does not exist!
  • privacy (Score:5, Funny)

    by justhatched ( 1291470 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:17AM (#26734855) Homepage
    It is a security measure
  • Look at Belgium (Score:4, Informative)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:20AM (#26734861)

    Stop making fun at Belgium and follow in their food steps. The readers are available and the source is open Dutch: []
    Main thing is that you see there are Linux drivers for it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:22AM (#26734871)

    The cards dont exist yet and wont until 2011 or 2012.

    Still, dont let truth get in the way of a good rant.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Its partly true, part headline grabbing. Some foreigners have been issued with cards, more as a trial than anything else, and readers outside this trial havn't been bought yet.

      Not much of a story really.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chrisq ( 894406 )
      RTFA: "The first UK ID cards have already been issued - but no UK police officers or border guards have any way of reading the data stored on them.". They are already issuing them to asylum seekers, people freed from Gitmo, etc.

      Maybe thats the plan - just say "sorry, just wait over there until we can read your card. You should be allowed into the UK sometime soon".
    • by u38cg ( 607297 ) <> on Thursday February 05, 2009 @06:10AM (#26735067) Homepage
      No, you can get one if you want one, and certain classes of people have to have them - asylum seekers, airport workers, and a few other categories. Perhaps gypsies and jews should be added to the list, *sigh*.
      • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @07:01AM (#26735265)
        Not just asylum seekers, anyone here on a settlement visa. My wife's got to have a card now, even though she's here fully legitimately and I'm a full-fledged British citizen andsubject of HRH Queen Elizabeth the Second. And students are next in line, which as a PhD researcher means yours truly. If you refuse? Well, you lose your visa or your student status as appropriate. They're targetting those that are least able to object in order to build up an "installed base".
        • by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @07:36AM (#26735397)

          Her Royal Highness? Did Her Majesty abdicate?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by u38cg ( 607297 )
          Do you know the funny thing though? My girlfriend is Brazilian, and she resides in the UK through her father having dual Portuguese/Brazilian nationality. By European law, she can't be required to have an ID card (and no-one seems to have asked, either) and unless she goes for UK citizenship, never will. This amuses me especially because both Portugal and Brazil do have mandatory ID cards.
        • I should correct myself here, it's only overseas students which are affected right now. So I'm not in line quite yet.
        • by houghi ( 78078 )

          In Belgium they did it the other way around. First the a testcase in one smaller village. Then to all Belgians and only later to foreigners. The reader can be used to fill out your taxes online among other things. There are plugins for different browsers so that people can use the card instead of filling out their address on a website (e.g. for delivery)

          All places and stores where you would expect to give your details, you can use a reader and enter it directly into your own system instead of typing it in.


      • It will be interesting to see what happens with the aircraft workers who already are subject to MORE stringent checks than the ID card would require. Every relevant union has already come out and rejected the introduction of additional pointless ID cards.
    • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @06:17AM (#26735097)

      Actually, the first ID cards were issued last year (2008).

  • Dad's Army (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BBadhedgehog ( 955308 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:24AM (#26734879)
    Is anyone really surprised? There are people out there who still don't believe that Dad's Army was an early example of reality TV. Government competence levels have not improved in the ensuing years.
  • Identity crisis (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RDW ( 41497 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:27AM (#26734893)

    Right now most bookmakers will give you very good odds on the current government actually being in power by the end of 2010. Since the other lot are supposedly going to get rid of the scheme, and there's been no large-scale rollout of the cards to the general population, it probably doesn't make a lot of sense to buy all the readers just now. Not that 'sense' really comes into this, of course.

  • by greenguy ( 162630 ) <estebandido AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:27AM (#26734897) Homepage Journal

    Britain has no readers that are able to the cards' microchip

    Hey, we all know how hard it can be to a card's microchip.

  • Kids these days (Score:2, Informative)

    by jsse ( 254124 )
    Yesterday you rant about giving up too much piracy, today you rant about them not being readable? I pity those cluelessnesses' failure in appreciating the beauty of unbreakable security with Write-Only-Memory(WOM) [] technology from Sygnetics in 1972.

    Enough about it. Get off my lawn.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sumdumass ( 711423 )

      Can't you see the irony here?

      The government does something no one wants, acting as if it knows best, then fucks the implementation up in ways few thought about making it worthless for the time being. It's like the drunk who swears he is able to drive, refuses to give up his keys, then gets into an accident before he gets out of the parking spot.

    • by Eivind ( 15695 )
      If you think about it, read-only-memory also doesn't make a whole lot of sense. More properly, it should be called write-once-memory.
    • by jimicus ( 737525 )

      A comment recommending "Write-only memory" modded informative?!

      I take it nobody read your comment properly or followed the link from it, then.

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:39AM (#26734945)

    Britain has no readers that are able to the cards' microchip,

    No problem, can't we just take them round to the Russian embassy? I'm sure that they are quite capable of reading all our microchips.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      can't we just take them round to the Russian embassy?

      The embassy of USA would be more appropriate - that's where all this crap is coming from.

      • Trotsky and Marx are where all this crap is coming from.

        I agree that all sorts of nasty authoritarian ideas have come out of the US in the last decade, but there is a reason why the UK government thinks that ID cards and the National Identity Register are a really fantastically great idea. It has nothing to do with terrorists or US foreign policy, and everything to do with the revolutionary "heroes" that our Government worshipped when they were younger, people who saw nothing wrong with abolishing freedom i

  • the uk has a FOIA? srsly, when did this happen?
  • by getuid() ( 1305889 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @06:15AM (#26735085) Homepage

    It was about biometric databases, computer-recognizable photographs and humongous amounts of fingerprints.

    • ...and cowing the populace into accepting such a relationship with the State as being normal. First, get the soft targets: the foreigners. Then start slicing away at the rest of us, one soft target at a time.

      Our rulers - by which I of course mean the half dozen media moguls that control the teeming masses - will be the last to have to submit to carrying and showing Ze Papers. Up until then, they'll be running this as a "Ho ho, how British!" mirth piece, rather than leading the revolution.

      • The media moguls are no more our rulers today than when Hearst more or less invented the modern concept of the media serving the government (but it has been always thus, back to the criers of Rome, wtfever they were actually called, and presumably then some) but they may be said to be in some measure of control.

        The media outlets are instructed as to what they may or may not air, and I am not talking about the thin veneer of respectability constructed through mock moral outrage and the efforts of the FCC.

  • Be careful (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @06:16AM (#26735089)

    It's easy, and quite tempting, to react to this news with patronizing contempt - and think, "Well, at least we're fairly safe - such a bunch of bunglers couldn't do any real harm".

    Unfortunately, a look back at history reveals that appalling inefficiency and incompetence have usually gone hand-in-hand with authoritarian government. But whereas we can still laugh about it, the time may come when doing so is distinctly unwise. People made fun of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini throughout their careers, and some got away with it. Others were arrested, beaten up, imprisoned, tortured, shot, or hanged with piano wire.

    • Sufficiently advanced bungling is indistinguishable from malice anyway. Whether it's malevolent orders from above or the apalling false positive rate on the biometrics, randomly detaining 10% of Britons attempting to use aircraft is an evil act.
  • Why is this news? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DavidR1991 ( 1047748 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @06:16AM (#26735091) Homepage

    They've only just started finalising and using these cards. Why is it surprising that there are no readers around?

    It's akin to saying that Blu-Ray or DVDs were a waste of time because initially there were no players for them - Hello, you need to wait for people to catch up, especially if the equipment is expensive (and although they're not consumer products, the same rules apply - places need to wait for grants or work out their budgets before buying or using said machines).

    Besides, practically no-one has these cards yet - and I doubt anyone will for a while, especially since they cost cash to get (It was ~£50 last I heard)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 )

      Well, at least with BluRay and DVD, there were people who actually wanted them. Yes, really, these people did exist.

      Now show me one border patrol person that is eager to get yet another thingamajig into their hands that means more work for the same pay?

    • by jimicus ( 737525 )

      It's a little different in this case for a number of reasons.

      This system was paid for by the taxpayer and sold to the taxpayer on all sorts of spurious grounds. With DVD and Blu-Ray, people can decide not to buy and the investment is lost - and if you object to R&D a company is carrying out right now, you can avoid funding it by not buying one of their products.

      With ID cards, you can't just write to HMRC and say "I won't be paying £100 worth of my taxes this year because they're going on a

    • It's akin to saying that Blu-Ray or DVDs were a waste of time because initially there were no players for them

      I'd hope there was at least one BluRay and DVD player on the market when they were first released. If not, who is going to buy them? When you've got a medium like a disk and a partner player they should be out at the same time. Granted, the early ones might not be great, but what's the point of having (say) a padlock without having produced any keys?

    • I would hope that any moderately functional government would have developed use cases for these cards, analyzed the effect of using them on length of queues, effectiveness at preventing fraud etc, AND ACTUALLY TESTED THAT THEY WORK IN AN END-TO-END PILOT, which would require working readers. It sounds to me like a sweet contract was handed to some company without any thought of the implications of implementing this plan.

      Do you think BluRay disks were developed in a vacuum without a working player (or at l

      • I can't say you are wrong, but there was no information in the article stating that they haven't tested the cards. All the article said is that there are none in practical use yet. That does make sense - installing the readers before there is a sizable number of cards in circulation, would be a waste of money. Regardless whether the scheme as a whole makes sense - it's certainly reasonable to wait with installing readers until the readers would save you time. Assuming that you can't possibly issue new cards
  • Don't fall for it.. they want you to think they can't read the cards so you wont be so worried about getting one.

    After all they only need to call this guy [] for a quick solution. ;)

  • No this is the department of silly cards... you're looking for the department of silly walks... four doors down and on the right. Now shove off you ya git!

  • It's admittedly odd that taxpayers are forced to pay for the scheme, targeted minorities are forced to buy the cards, the but the authorities can decide whether or not it's a sensible use of money.

    On the other hand, there isn't much point having the readers unless there's a reason to suspect the bearer's identity. As the scheme is voluntary, those with suspect identities won't be the first in the queue for the cards. As law-enforcement will only interested in those without cards, then there's not much po

  • by thetoadwarrior ( 1268702 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @08:21AM (#26735605) Homepage
    I'm sure someone found a way to read them and the data will be uploaded to the net soon like a lot of government data.
  • Google will fix it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @09:07AM (#26735833)
    They'll have drive-by readers for their Google locate-a-UK-citizen webapp.

    The thing that worries me is that the downturn means that people now working at Google, Microsoft etc. will be released into the community and will then get Government jobs. One thing worse than pervasive Govt paranoia and spying is efficient pervasive government paranoia and spying.

  • May I congratulate the nameless civil servant who threw this spanner into the wrench. I'd like to hope that this particular "error" can be attributed to competence, rather than oversight.

  • Ok, so either the brits are really dumb, as they didnt forsee this happening, the budget cuts to all police hqs means they can't afford one of these new machines, or it was the most brilliant scam, tally up all the loses over a period, tack it to a scapegoat of a project that you know will fail. ...voila, hands washed clean of any mess....7 billion huh....that's a pretty good cover up!

  • And all you people were worried about big brother.

  • Why would the government have readers for the cards? They're a huge waste of money unless you actually had a use for them. Why is it that people presume that the British government wanted people to have the cards. The British government's support and legal system was necessary to assure that everyone got a card, sure, but now that everyone's got a card, extragovernmental agencies can leverage them -- which was the original point of the exercise, was it not? No point in making the taxpayer pay for a reader y

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.