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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 11:39 GMT
BT scheme to fight ID fraud
Eye superimposed on a circuit board
Are you who you say you are?
BT has launched an ID verification scheme that it hopes will become the universal system for government and businesses wanting to check identities on the net.

URU (You Are You) is designed to make identity mix-ups such as the recent arrest of pensioner Derek Bond in South Africa as one of the FBI's most wanted men far less common, say the developers of the system.

Businesses or governments needing to check identities need to enter the details of the person into the database.

The system then trawls through databases such as the Electoral Roll, the Death Register and the Post Office Address File.

The scheme is a joint venture between BT and the data capture firm, the GB Group.

Transforming government

Two billion transactions each year in the UK require ID authentication
200 million in financial services
1.5 billion in retail
800 million in government
In phase one, the only details that will be entered are name, address and Meter Point Asset Number - the number in the corner of every household electricity bill which is unique to that property.

The electricity industry has agreed to allow BT to use the number for verification purposes only.

There are an estimated two billion transactions in the UK each year which require authentication of identity, 800 million alone in government.

"URU will be a major ingredient in transforming and joining up government," said Mike Stone, general manager of BT Stepchange.gov, a division of the telephone company which works on government web services.

It could also become a pre-requisite of any universal ID card, if the government decides to launch one, said BT.

"We envisage that URU will become ubiquitous for citizens, businesses and government and we predict that in 10 years' time, 90% of ID checks will be done in this way," he added.

Initially the system is being trialled by well-known retail banks, he said.

Privacy issues

According to BT the system complies with data privacy laws and will not disclose any information about the person to the company checking ID.

It also requires the person to agree to have the check run and will e-mail them every time their ID is requested, offering a further safeguard against identity theft.

"It is a pro-active way to protect your identity," said Chris Gahan, Data Development Manager at BT Ignite, the web services division of BT that is responsible for the scheme.

But not everyone is convinced it will be a panacea to the problem of checking IDs.

"These systems can easily become impenetrable monopolies," said Head of Privacy International Simon Davies.

"Each government department already has a way of checking identity and the question is why do we need mega-systems" he added.

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