UK Government: Fight online fraud with free iPods

Giving everyone in the UK a digital signature-enabled iPod would improve the authentication of private and public sector online services, suggests the DTI

A senior manager in the UK Department of Trade and Industry has come up with a unique alternative to the government's ID Card scheme — give everyone in the country a free iPod installed with a digital certificate.

Patrick Cooper, head of applications and data services at the DTI, floated the idea — albeit with his tongue firmly in cheek — at a event on Tuesday, hosted by Adobe, to discuss technology predictions for 2006.

Cooper said that two of the main issues facing the IT industry are network authentication and security — particularly when using government services online. He claimed that the ubiquity of ADSL networks has come at a price — and that price is security. ISDN was an inherently more secure medium than ADSL but was too expensive to meet the needs of most consumers or small businesses.

But a mobile phone or an iPod equipped with a digital signature or digital certificate which consumers or business users plugged into their home machines would be an efficient way to solve online authentication and identity management problems, Cooper argued.

"If you had a mobile phone with a digital certificate you could dock it into your PC — an iPod with a digital certificate would also work," said Cooper. "My boss would give everyone in the UK an iPod — that would also mean there would be no reason for anyone to steal one because everyone would have one."

Cooper quipped that the iPod scheme would also be a more cost-efficient alternative to other government plans to combat online fraud, such as equipping the proposed National ID Card with a PIN or password system to enable it to work as an online authentication device.

The Government has been facing mounting pressure to combat online fraud after it emerged in December last year that the tax credit Web site had been hit by over £30m of fraudulent claims.

The cost per ID card could rise to almost £500 due to the cost of integrating the IT infrastructure with other government departments and public sector bodies, according to recent figures from the London School of Economics

"It [an iPod with a digital certificate] would be cheaper than the ID Card scheme because everyone at the London School of Economics has told us how expensive ID Cards are going to be," said Cooper.

Under Cooper's plan, giving everyone in the UK an iPod Nano would work out at roughly £139 — even before factoring in the kind of discount that Apple may offer for a bulk purchase of 60 million units.

The LSE has also calculated that integrating the ID card IT infrastructure with all the government departments and public bodies expected to use the national identity register will cost an extra £5bn to £10bn — bringing the total cost of the scheme nearer to £30bn.

According to Apple, the company sold 14 million iPods in the final quarter of 2005 and 32 million for the year in total.

silicon.com's Andy McCue contributed to this report.

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