Tech Industry

U.K. ditches ID card megadatabase

Info on separate systems will be shared rather than consolidated. Biometrics system based on iris scanning shelved.

The British government has trimmed back its controversial ID card project, ditching plans for a single megadatabase that would hold all ID card information, and shelving the use of iris-scanning biometrics.

The National Identity Register (NIR) was to be the giant database at the heart of the project, holding personal identity information and biometric data for everyone enrolled in the plan. The revised plan calls for sharing the NIR data already on three existing systems.

"These sets of information--biometric, biographical and administrative--do not all need to be held in a single system," the government's action plan for the ID cards project stated. "In fact, for security reasons, and to make best use of the strengths of existing systems, it makes sense to store them separately."

"One of the key things we've been looking at is the use of existing government assets wherever useful," James Hall, CEO of the Identity and Passport Service, told "The Department for Work and Pensions has a very large Customer Information System (CIS) and we believe there is a huge opportunity to reuse that technology to store the biographic component of the National Identity Registry."

The CIS technology is already used to hold records for everyone who has a National Insurance number. The data in the existing system won't be copied but will be recorded new when people are enrolled in the system.

Existing biometric storage systems currently used for asylum seekers will be used for the NIR in the short term. For the public key infrastructure information related to the secure use and issue of ID cards, the plan is to build on existing systems used to issue ePassports, which currently rely on facial biometrics.

The plan for which biometrics will be used in ID cards has changed too. Following a review of the project this summer, it was decided that only fingerprints and facial biometrics, rather than iris scans, will be used.

The plan also revealed that while the first ID cards will be issued in 2009, it will be 2010 before "significant volumes" of the cards will be ready.

There likely will be between 5 and 10 technology procurements needed to build the information-sharing system, a process that will start in April or May 2007 and last for about a year.

Despite the tight deadline, Hall said, "the timetable we've laid out represents our best current estimates of what we can do. This is not a greenfield site--we are not dealing with technology that is unknown. We think we have a sensible, credible plan that we can deliver."

Steve Ranger of reported from London.