[Dave Birch] It’s been a landmark week for those of us fascinated by the UK’s national identity card scheme. The first cards have now actually been issued, so even as we speak identity fraud in the UK will be going… up. Why? Well, the government has met its own artificial target for the issuing of cards, but as you may have observed when you try to use one of the other smart cards in your possession (eg, your debit card), the cards are not the system.

Britain’s first ID cards cannot be read by any official body because the government has not issued a single scanner. Ministers promised to roll out hundreds of electronic readers of biometric details. However, a spokesman for the Home Office admitted last week that no employers, police forces, hospitals or colleges have been given the machine – and there are as yet no plans to issue them.

[From No scanners to read ID cards | Politics | The Observer]

So, in other words, as long as you can make something that looks like a plausible ID card, no problem. If you want to make it plausible, you need to go to the IPS web site to find out what physical features might be required to pass manual inspection. This will direct you to a helpful section on the UK Border Agency web site that describes those features in detail. it also explains how to verify a card that is presented to you…

Sponsors are expected to look at the card carefully. It will show the person’s entitlement to work, study or access public funds. The Guidance on identity cards for foreign nationals shows how you can check a card to ensure it is valid. This will help you to become familiar with its design and recognise the card when you are shown one. It also gives information on the card’s security features, to help you make your checks.

Although you are not legally required to check documents, we recommend that you do so for everyone you wish to employ.

[From UK Border Agency | Checking identity cards for foreign nationals]

The accompanying Guidance explains what a valid card should look like, but also includes some additional helpful steps for employers. These include

Physical checks can also be performed on the card. As it is made entirely from polycarbonate, it will have a distinctive sound when flicked, and the holder’s image will always be in grey-scale. The card should not be bent or folded, as this is likely to cause it to break. Contact with water should be avoided to prevent damage to the contact chip.

[From UK Border Agency | Checking identity cards for foreign nationals]

As far as I can see, life just got easier for illegal workers, since all they now have to do is to produce a valid-looking card and they are sorted. If you think that this is a hypothetical problem because no-one in the UK actually accepts these cards as proof of anything, think again.

UK casino operators can accept the Government’s new compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals as proof of ID – provided they meet money laundering regulation requirements, according to the Gambling Commission.

[From Identity Cards Now Welcome At UK Casinos | GamblingCompliance.com]

I’m sure the chance of an illegal immigrant using a forged card to launder money in a casino is so small as to be infestiminal, but nevertheless it does seem slightly odd to not even have plans to issue readers.

This leads to what I’ve decided to call the “Malaysian Problem” with ID cards. Some years ago, Malaysia followed the same trajectory as the UK’s IPS. They issued “smart” cards with proprietary data but no readers. No-one could build their own readers, since there was no open specification or certification scheme, so there were no private sector readers to go alongside the no public sector readers. As I’ve noted before, the principal beneficiaries were criminals.

Thus, introducing an identity card (to pick an obvious example) means that criminals will be attracted to obtaining them fraudulently and the hitherto non-existent crime of making bogus ID cards will naturally rocket. That’s human nature. If you were going to create a criminal enterprise based on bogus ID cards, who would you target? Probably the group with the least recourse to the law: illegal immigrants.

[From Digital Identity Forum: New identity crimes]

This is exactly what happened. Criminal gangs made money selling bogus ID cards to illegal workers. Since neither the workers nor their employers could distinguish between real and fake cards, this was a good business. Now that the UK ID card has a value — getting you into a casino — the fake ID card has value too, and since the casino will not be able to tell the difference, the result is absolutely predictable.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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