As we know, the cost of the government's ID cards proposal is mired in deceit. On 13 February, Home Secretary Charles Clarke told the House of Commons:
"Our estimate of the average annual operating costs of issuing passports and ID cards...is £584 million. Those costs will be met in the main by fees rather than by a call on public funds. I think the figure will end up being less than £584 million, although I think that is a firm and strong estimate."
This was a most extraordinary and unsubstantiated statement, since we already had a detailed 300 page expert report from the LSE which put the total cost at up to £19.3bn. We reckoned £584m would be a good benchmark for calibrating the government's lies.
Now, we've got a leaked Home Office memo which reckons that, far from costing taxpayers money, the scheme will actually make up to £11bn profit. By imposing high charges, the whole racket can be turned into a nice little earner- another stealth tax.
Nice... except that the numbers don't seem to square with that "firm and strong" £584m pa Clarke told us about:
"It says the scheme will cost about £800m to set up between 2005 and 2010. Annual operating costs will be £360m for the 10 years from 2009 to 2018."
How does that square? £800m spread over 10 years with interest is say £100m pa, equals an all-in cost of c £460m pa. £120m short of Clarke's original dodgy figure, let alone the likely true costs.
And those costs are likely to increase still further. We now hear that Lukas Grunwald, a German security consultant, told the Black Hat Security Conference in Las Vegas that he'd managed to clone the information stored on the "hi-tech high security" chips in our new biometric passports:
"The whole passport design is totally brain damaged," Mr Grunwald told Wired.com. "From my point of view all of these [biometric] passports are a huge waste of money - they're not increasing security at all."
It took him only two weeks to figure out how to clone the passport chip. Most of that time he spent reading the standards for e-passports that are posted on a website for the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body that developed the standard.
In a demonstration for Wired News, Grunwald placed his passport on top of an official passport-inspection RFID reader used for border control. He obtained the reader by ordering it from the maker -- Walluf, Germany-based ACG Identification Technologies -- but says someone could easily make their own for about $200 just by adding an antenna to a standard RFID reader."
And it's apparently as simple as that.
The ID cards project remains well on track to join the NHS supercomputer as the biggest IT spending fiascos ever.
PS It's well worth reading the Wired News story. It not only provides step by step pix of the cloning, but it also has the following pic showing how these new passports could actually be a security hazard. It's a demonstation of how such a passport carried around could be used to trigger a dustbin bomb specifically targeted on say a US citizen:
I don't think it's from Jackass.