Gov't watchdog reveals early ID card concerns

Two Gateway Review reports warn of several risks of the identity-card scheme, including inadequate support from relevant organisations, erosion of public support and cost
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor

The agency charged with driving value for money for government projects has revealed its early concerns over the £4.7bn ID card project.

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) has published the findings of two Gateway Reviews into the project carried out in 2003 and 2004.

The 2003 report warned of several risks of the scheme, including the perceived benefits of the project "not [being] on a scale to justify the costs" as well as the "erosion of public support for the scheme".

As part of this, the police suggested that proceeding with the project without any obligation for citizens to carry or produce the cards "would substantially remove the administrative savings and some of the other advantages that identity cards would offer".

While ID cards became compulsory for some categories of foreign nationals last year, they are currently optional for the general public.

Other risks cited in the 2003 report included inadequate support from relevant organisations such as the police, DVLA and Identity and Passport Service; and concerns that the sheer scale of the project "could lead to difficulties".

Technology also featured on the OGC's list of concerns: the review described "unexpected data problems" as "an ever-present danger" and warned that poor systems architecture could lead to higher costs.

Another risk to the ID cards project cited by the 2003 review was the debate over the effectiveness of biometrics.

"Opinion seems divided on how effective or dependable biometrics will be. There is little past experience, in the UK or elsewhere, to go on. Pilots will be especially important," the report said.

While the ID cards currently in circulation carry the biometrics of the holder on a chip, there are no scanners in use in the UK with the ability to read them.

The two Gateway Reviews also saw the OGC making several recommendations that it viewed as critical for the government to meet before proceeding with the project, including putting in place "a strong programme direction and management".

The OGC also advised the project should be led by the Home Office with "committed support" from other departments and agencies, and suggested the appointment of a "senior responsible owner" — an individual responsible for ensuring that the project meets its objectives — to chair a board of the organisations involved in the ID cards scheme.

The two Gateway Review reports — which were originally produced in 2003 and 2004 — have been published for the first time following a ruling by the Information Tribunal that ended four years of legal wrangling.

The reviews were originally requested via a Freedom of Information Request by a member of anti-ID card group No2ID, Mark Dziecielewski.

As of 28 January, 2009, the legal costs spent by the OGC to keep the information confidential was £121,000.

silicon.com's Nick Heath contributed to this report.

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