Common Sense. Departing now from Gate 14…

Last November the government announced its plan to use air-side airport staff as the test subjects in an ID Card pilot programme…

At the time, I thought it was a slightly daft and discriminatory way to test the ID Card scheme. Even the chief exec of London City Airport, Richard Gooding, was quoted as saying that “U.K. airports already have compulsory biometric identification systems” – which seemed to make this a rather pointless change to a presumably working existing system.

The logic hasn’t improved over the intervening months, if this article on The Register is anything to go by. Now, it appears, ID Cards will only be issued to new employees – not to existing staff. Let’s have a look at some of the possible consequences of this policy:

– those checking identities will have to deal with two different sets of credentials, presumably with different authentication mechanisms and different underlying technology, devices etc.; that is likely to lead to cases where valid credentials are mistakenly refused, or invalid ones accepted. Ironically, in the States, the is keen to reduce the variety (and hence complexity) of credentials like Driver’s Licenses, in the interest of more reliable authentication.

– authentication is more likely to revert to ‘fall-back’ mode: if the card reader for the credential in question is missing/faulty, the card-holder will have to be identified by ‘fall-back’ means. Ill-intentioned persons will exploit (and even induce) this potential weakness.

– ‘duress’ attacks on existing employees with legitimate IDs are more likely – because the new ones are supposedly harder to spoof. How nice for them. [Side question: if the new IDs are not harder to spoof, what’s the point…?]

– the approach will do little to defuse accusations of discrimination; some people may even object to their employment being made conditional on having a compulsory entry in the NIR, when it is voluntary for everyone else.

– far from identifying a willing and sizeable ‘test’ population, and thereby gaining some positive critical mass for the scheme, the new policy (of cards for new employees only) reduces still further the chances of reaching critical mass. Unless I’m missing something: has air travel suddenly become the boom sector of the recovering economy without my noticing?

There’s another sentence in the Register article which really puzzles me. According to the airline pilots’ union, BALPA, after the initial 18-month period “the scheme will be rolled out to all pilots and other airside staff in Manchester and then to all airside workers countrywide.”

Manchester Airport is an international one, serving destinations from Aruba to Plovdiv. Its website lists some 66 airlines, many of which are non-UK and several of which are non-EU. How on earth are they going to decide which pilots should be issued with ID Cards? (In the EU, for instance, it is illegal for member state A to insist that the citizens EU member state B hold the national ID card of member state A…).

It all sounds like a pocketful of worms to me.