03 November 2005 | Anusha Bradley
Experts have begun to question the technical feasibility of the government's proposed identity card scheme.
The doubts have been raised as the Home Office circulated procurement details for the scheme. Identity Cards Programme Procurement Strategy Market Soundings
, distributed last month, is said to be the most detailed document of its kind from the public sector.
But many questions remain unanswered ahead of the proposed introduction of the scheme in 2008. Graham Titterington, security technology analyst at consultancy Ovum, said: "The government is brushing over the technology problem on the assumption it will be solved."
He said facial recognition technology did not work well on people with glasses, the elderly or young, and fingerprint scans from manual labourers, typists and Asian women were unreliable.
Professor John Daugman, iris recognition inventor from the University of Cambridge, said facial recognition was "far from ready" and UCL biometrics expert Professor Angela Sasse said none of it was ready and was yet to be convinced it would be by 2008.
"I haven't seen technology demonstrated that will work well enough for such a large-scale public project," she said. But the Home Office told SM
it would press ahead regardless of responses to the document. "We will find the capacity to do it," said a spokeswoman.
The government has also set up a team of independent experts to evaluate the technology. Suppliers are asked to respond to the procurement proposal by 9 November with advice on market and technological capabilities.
Respondents must specify experience in biometrics ID and suggest solutions to possible problems. Comments on projected timescales, systems integration, the future of biometrics and contract structure and duration are also requested.
The document says the Home Office anticipates suppliers "may wish to form consortia early", adding it has not ruled out using a single provider that could show overall value. It also asks suppliers if they can provide "highly resilient and secure data centres" for the national identity register, applications and enrolment databases.
The register should be able to hold more than 100 million records and verify 163 million ID transactions a year. Last year the US delayed the introduction of biometric passports under its visa waiver scheme, citing "scientific and technical challenges" and this year UK trials of ID card technology also identified problems.