[This post brought to by the letters M, T, B and F] The British government, that well-known expert in delivering IT projects over budget, over time and under spec, appears to have struck again. As reported in both the Register and the Inquirer (and probably elsewhere), the National Audit Office (NAO) has issued a bit of a curates egg judgement on the biometric passport wheeze. One of the problems they have identified is something that is known to almost every hardware designer - namely that after a while stuff breaks down. The chips in the UK passports have been supplied by Philips and Philips is not willing ot give them more than a 2 year warranty. This is a bit of a bummer seeing as passports are supposed to be valid for 10 years.
Now it is likely that the in fact many of the chips will continue to work for 10 years, the average passport is not used more than once or twice a year and tends to stay in a drawer in between times, but this will not be the case for the frequent traveller. More to the point the passports of frequent travellers tend to get bent, squashed and otherwise mistreated, which seems likely to increase the risk of chip failure. Thus even if you are not a frequent traveller the chances that some traveller in the queue in front of you will have a duff chip is non-trivial. One suspects that every broken passport will require extra processing thus ensuring that the folk behind have to spend more time in the joyful surroundings of the arrival hall.
As if that were not enough the Register points out that the NAO has also noticed that the chip specified doesn't have room for all the biometric data the government wants to put on them and notes that much of the other infrastructure for the project is delayed, missing or otherwise not ready for prime time.
Wonderful stuff which makes me proud to be Britishg (er NOT).