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Government unveils UK citizen ID card

Home secretary Alan Johnson has unveiled what ID cards will look like for UK citizens, amid Tory complaints that the scheme has already cost the taxpayer over £200m
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Topic: Security
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1 of 5 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

The is a mock-up of what an ID card for UK citizens will look like, revealed on Thursday by home secretary Alan Johnson.

The Home Office said it recognises the "concerns that the public have over their information being stored securely and accessed appropriately".

The Home Office told ZDNet UK that the card would have "important security features", including physical engraving, to make it harder for criminals to counterfeit.

"The card is a laser-engraved polycarbonate card which has a secure, high-integrity design incorporating visual security features and tactile security features," said a Home Office spokesperson. "The card contains many security features which are incorporated into the design — some visual such as colour-changing ink, some tactile — the engraved floral design, which will help those presented with the card to check that it is genuine."

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2 of 5 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

The back of the card shows the chip, which will hold personal data.

The Home Office said it was "satisfied that the personal data on the card, including the chip, cannot be changed or modified".

Cambridge University security expert Richard Clayton said while it was feasible that the cryptography on the card could be unbreakable, for the card to be completely secure, the entire system would need to be completely secure.

"You can produce cryptography which is extremely strong, but what if you bribed someone on the inside to change details and produce a card for you?" said Clayton. "You have to look at the entire system design to say whether details could be changed. You can't just look at one narrow part."

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3 of 5 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

This picture shows the details of information that will appear on the top of the card.

The Home Office said in a statement on Thursday that the card could be used both as a substitute for a passport when travelling abroad, and also as a proof-of-age card.

Clayton said this could have the de facto effect of making ID cards compulsory, despite government assurances that people would not be forced to have them.

"The thing to worry about is that people will start to demand your card in a pub just because they can — what I call 'petty ID'," said Clayton. "The government says you don't have to carry a card, but actually you do, because you can't do anything without it."

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4 of 5 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

This picture shows details of the information that will appear at the bottom of the card.

On Thursday, the Conservative Party reiterated its commitment to scrap the scheme, and said the government had spent "a staggering amount of money on the scheme so far." The Conservatives said the cost of the ID card scheme to the taxpayer at present is approximately £215m.

"The government has already wasted £200m that we cannot afford," said shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, in a statement. "The scheme will cost hundreds of million pounds more, even if the cards are voluntary. It is time this scheme was completely scrapped."

The Conservatives added that contracts had been signed by the government to the tune of £1bn.

"The home secretary has confirmed that the government has signed eight contracts for delivery of the National Identity Scheme, three of which were signed this year," said the Conservative statement. "The combined value is at least £1bn, and two contracts are for a period of 10 years."

IBM recently announced a seven-year contract to supply the technology behind the National Biometric Identity Service, the database that will hold details of people's fingerprints. The Conservatives said on Thursday that the contract was worth £265m, and has been awarded for seven years with one three-year option to extend.

The party warned earlier this month against contractors accepting "poison pill" break clauses designed to make it difficult for a future government to scrap the scheme.

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5 of 5 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

This image shows the details of information that will be on the back of the card.

The Conservatives said ID card contractors include Thales UK, which was awarded a contract in July 2008 for National Identity Scheme technology worth £18m. The contract was awarded for four years, with four successive six-month options to extend.

In June, De La Rue won the contract to design and produce UK passports, worth £400m. The 10-year contract was signed on 2 July.

CSC was awarded the contract to upgrade the Identity and Passport Service's application and enrolment system in April 2009. The 10-year contract is worth £385m.

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