[Dave Birch] What with an imminent election in the UK, there’s been more talk about e-government and the future of online services.

A MyGov dashboard that allows every citizen to personalise the explosive growth of government services on the web was proposed today by Gordon Brown… Brown said MyGov, which will eventually replace DirectGov, will end the current frustration of web users needing to identify themselves separately for different public services.

[From Gordon Brown proposes personalised MyGov web services | Technology | guardian.co.uk]

Whoa! Hold on a minute. How are the recalcitrant inhabitants of Middlesborough, forced online by the redoubtable Ms. Martha Lane Fox, going to identify themselves to their MyGov page, and how will this identification and relevant credentials be federated to the various government transactional services it will link to?

By the way, here’s my mock-up of what the MyGov dashboard might look like.

I wonder if we might be able to use the national ID card that the government has procured at considerable expense? Let’s pop over Estonia, the most e-enabled country in Europe, to see how things are going over there as this might give the incoming administration some ideas.

…as of January 17th , the number of users of electronic IDs amounted to 300.145 people, around the 28 percent of the total number of owners of valid ID cards.

[From Estonian Free Press – Estonia News » 300.145 People Used Electronic IDs]

The population of Estonia is 1.3m, so that means that about a quarter of the population have bothered to go an get a smart ID card in its first couple of years of operation. While some of them have undoubtedly got it to access e-government services and to use it as a an EU travel document, I suspect a great many got it because they can use it to travel on the buses (where the ID card links to a virtual ticket for mass transit). If we focus on online though,

…more than 274,000 people used ID cards for authenticating themselves and that, back in 2009, people used IDs for authenticating more than 70,000 times per day with something like 40,000 digital signatures registered every day.

[From Estonian Free Press – Estonia News » 300.145 People Used Electronic IDs]

So the eIDs are used for authentication once every three days and for digital signatures once every week on average. This isn’t really the case, I suspect, because the natural distribution of such things is that a few users use the service a lot, others rarely. Nevertheless, they are being used. So could we use the UK ID card in the same way? Sadly, no. The only application on the card is the ICAO e-passport application and you need to read the MRZ to access the information. The application can’t be used for anything remotely “e-“, whether through a personalised dashboard or in a job centre PC.

The notion that enhanced paper-based ID cards might solve such problems as employment of undocumented aliens, transportation vulnerability, or identity theft are based on illusions that yesterday’s obsolete technology can be effectively used to solve tomorrow’s problems.

[From Mark A. Shiffrin and Avi Silberschatz: ID Cards are Obsolete Technology]

This is exactly the problem. The current ID card does nothing more than emulate a paper passport with better anti-counterfeiting technology.

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

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