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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 09:26 GMT
ID cards 'need to be smart'
A specimen ID card
Would smart cards appeal to citizens?

The proposed ID card for UK citizens needs to be smart in order to attract people.

That is the view of Stijn Bijnens, Chief Executive of security firm Ubizen, a company that has helped design such a smart card for the Belgium Government.

The Belgium ID card has an embedded digital signature that will allow citizens to do banking online as well as complete a variety of transactions with the government, including tax returns and e-voting.

The UK Government is currently considering whether to go ahead with an ID card and is considering what functions it will fulfil.

"It was part of the consultation to look at the information people wanted on this card and we are assessing that information now," said a spokeswoman for the Home Office.

Secure transactions

The Belgian Government is creating an ID card not to have a central database on citizens but as the only way to medical files and other online transactions securely

Stijn Bijnens, Ubizen
Mr Bijnens argues that, while a standalone ID card offers few benefits, a smart card is a much more attractive proposition for consumers.

He thinks it is inevitable that more and more sensitive data such as medical records, salary details and tax returns will go online.

As that happens, smart ID cards will help protect privacy, rather than threaten it.

"The Belgian Government is creating an ID card not to have a central database on citizens but as the only way to medical files and other online transactions securely," he said.

Much of the debate in the UK over proposals for an ID card has centred around the database necessary to support such a scheme.

Opponents say that such a database would open up all kinds of privacy issues such as who has access to the information and what exactly is stored by the government.

Data handling

Smart card vendors say they have come up with the perfect technology solution but in the absence of a perfect bureaucracy it will never happen

Simon Davies, Privacy International
Privacy International has been heading the campaign against the introduction of ID card.

Director Simon Davies told BBC News Online that the same arguments apply to smart cards as to ID cards - that a centralised database of information is neither workable nor desirable.

"All government departments are under pressure to find new ways of handling data but the question is whether it is desirable or necessary to have health information joined up with financial information," he said.

He points out that previous schemes to provide a national database of information, such as attempts to overhauls the UK courts computer system, have gone way over budget and time.

"Smart card vendors say they have come up with the perfect technology solution but in the absence of a perfect bureaucracy it will never happen," he said.

Complaint

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes has added his view to growing concern about the consultation that the government has just finished into the idea of a British ID card.

He has written to Home Office minister Lord Falconer complaining about the process which he says did not present the arguments for and against the scheme properly.

"People are right to demand a proper examination of the civil liberties implications of these proposals. If we are going to have ID cards it must be by general agreement, not by stealth," he said in the letter.

"This government has a long way to go if it wants to persuade us that ID cards are worth the expense and the risk to data privacy," he added.

See also:

24 Jan 03 | Technology
14 Jan 03 | Technology
08 Jan 03 | Politics
04 Oct 02 | Technology
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