Inland Revenue problems repeated in UK

The UK government has run straight into the same problem New Zealand's Inland Revenue had last year - by using digital certificates for security it has unwillingly ruled out any non-Microsoft browser.

LinuxUser magazine in the UK carries a story entitled 'Microsoft.gov.OK?' which looks at the problem of digital certificates that can only be read by Microsoft products.

Inland Revenue's ir-File system faced a similar problem when it launched in April 1999. The problems stemmed from IRD's insistence that the system support client-side digital certificates - something EDS provided by creating a separate application, an ActiveX control. The control uses Window's cryptography API (CAPI) to process the certificate. Non-Windows systems cannot do this, and users who have a non-Microsoft browser, like Netscape for example, must download a plug-in to make the system work. IRD was overwhelmed with calls to its help desk from users who could not log in, requiring it to hire extra help-desk staff to meet the demand. Eventually it "enhanced" the system by moving to a more normal 128-bit encryption password scheme, similar to online banking.

Now the UK government is facing a similar problem, although on a much larger scale. The Blair government announced it would be producing a central portal for government services that would see all government agencies dealing with the public online by 2005. LinuxUser puts the cost of the government site at £18 million.

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