Government ordered to release secret ID card report

The Information Commissioner has given the government a week to hand over a feasibility report into its ID card project
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor

The UK's data protection watchdog has ordered the government to release a controversial secret report detailing the costs, benefits and risks of introducing ID cards.

The decision follows a complaint by Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten in 2004 after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused his request in a parliamentary question to publicly release its ID cards feasibility report.

Each central government department has conducted a secret feasibility report into how it plans to use ID cards and what the costs, risks and benefits are likely to be.

Following the DWP's refusal to release the controversial report, the MP complained to the data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office, which considered the decision under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, even though the law had not been introduced when Oaten first made his request in 2004.

The DWP argued disclosure of the report would prejudice the government's ability to think and develop its policies without prejudice and lead to the release of commercially sensitive information that could harm the ID cards procurement process.

But after reviewing a copy of the report the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, dismissed the DWP's arguments and ruled that the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in keeping it secret. Thomas also said he was not convinced the release of the report would prejudice the tendering process or the commercial interests of the scheme.

Thomas said in his ruling: "There is clearly also a strong public interest in the public knowing whether the introduction of identity cards will bring benefits to the DWP, and to other government departments, and if so what those benefits will be... It will allow the public to make a more accurate assessment of whether the significant costs of the scheme are justified by the benefits it is likely to deliver in areas such as the prevention of benefit fraud."

If the DWP does not appeal the decision it will have 30 days to hand the ID card report over to Oaten.

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