Banks fear ID cards have lost useful features

The UK financial services industry has expressed concerns that security features which would have made the card useful in certain financial transactions have been stripped from the scheme
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

While the Home Office is hoping ID cards will one day be used for everything from claiming benefits to opening bank accounts, the UK financial services industry has its doubts over how useful the cards will prove.

The UK payments association Apacs — whose members includes the UK's major high-street banks — is worried that security features which would have made the card useful for checking identity in large money transfers and online transactions have been stripped from the scheme.

Head of security for Apacs Colin Whittaker told a conference hosted by the BCS Security Forum yesterday: "Some of the features we were expecting in the ID card are not going to be present for the foreseeable future.

"There's nothing in the middle tech range which is where a lot of the user case scenarios — particularly in the financial sector — are going to give more value. For example, doing a high-value cash withdrawal, a counter-based withdrawal, where a financial institution asks you to put the ID card in a reader, checks it's a valid card and takes a PIN."

He added: "The online capabilities that we were hoping were going to be present are unlikely to be there for the foreseeable future."

According to the Home Office, it is important not to overcomplicate the card with too many features.

Speaking at the same event, identity minister Meg Hillier said: "If you try and lay too much on something then you risk overwhelming it and making it too complex.

"You risk the core and the core is that we have an ID register that is safe and links an individual to their ID."

Apacs's Whittaker questioned whether the ID scheme's expense will outweigh its usefulness. "I have some grave concerns as to whether we are going to get the services we want at a cost that is going to be meaningful," he said.

Barclaycard too has reservations over where the cards can be used in financial services. Richard Mould, head of card innovation at Barclaycard, told the conference: "We are a commercial sector. I need to think 'is there a product, a service that I can charge for and that my customers want?'. I have not witnessed any yet."

Mould said Barclays is happy with the PINsentry card reader that it uses to secure its own online transactions and currently sees no reason to switch to using ID cards.

Apacs meanwhile would like a "simple" and "elegant" electronic way to prove the authenticity of the ID card using cryptography, similar to that used in existing credit and debit cards. It also wants some form of PIN-based verification to be useable with the cards, Whittaker said.

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