Home Office finalises ID management plans

The strategy to underpin the ID Cards scheme will be published within weeks, but critics claim the government is floundering
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The Government has admitted that it doesn't yet have a definite plan for the implementation and management of its ID card scheme, despite having spent £46.4m on the scheme to the end of May this year.

On Thursday, Home Office promised to published a detailed, definite Identity Management Strategy within weeks. No final details of that strategy could be given, as it's still in the process of being formulated.

"We will bring forward a clear plan in the coming weeks," Joan Ryan, Home Office parliamentary undersecretary of state, speaking at the Biometrics 2006 show in London.

The Government's Identity Management Strategy will set out the key uses of ID cards, explain how the Home Office will work with other departments, and "show how intermediate steps will start to deliver more secure identification, and deliver services more efficiently by stripping out some of the duplication of processes that frustrate both the public and our front-line staff at present," said Ryan.

Anti-identity card campaigners claimed that duplication of bureaucratic processes is caused by excessive bureaucracy.

"What they're saying is: we'll give you an easy way of dealing with the ways we've made life more difficult for you," said Guy Herbert, general secretary of No2ID.

"But that's just spin — vapid and empty. They're justifying [the scheme] as a benefit to the public, when all it benefits is the state. The driving force of the legislation was to create more opportunities for bureaucratic checkpoints in life. The people driving the scheme benefit directly, while the people suffering under the scheme will not benefit," Herbert told ZDNet UK.

The Identity Cards Act 2006 gave the Government powers to create a National Identity Register to store and share details of people's identity, including biographical and biometric information.

However, the Home Office hasn't decided whether an entirely new database will be created, whether the Government would pull together data from existing databases to create the register, or whether there would be a mixture of the two.

"We haven't made a final decision about whether there will be a whole new database," Ryan told ZDNet UK.

No2ID campaigners found it "unsurprising" that the government still has no definite plans.

"Quite what the ID Cards Unit does, nobody can work out," said Herbert "They don't seem to have produced anything so far."

Industry has been frustrated by a lack of clear specifications for the scheme, according to Herbert.

"The solutions people are getting jumpy. They don't want to leap into something that will be an unmitigated disaster, for which they'll be ritually blamed. Look at Accenture [which recently pulled out of the Health Service NPfIT programme]."

However, the Home Office insisted it would bring forward a coherent plan in the coming weeks.

"In the near future all will become clear," Ryan told ZDNet UK. "We're three-quarters of the way through, and we're near to giving specifications and an action plan."

"We have had some involvement with industry, but there seemed little point in seeking more until we bring forward some more definite proposals. We fully intend to consult industry at the point when we bring forward a clear plan in the coming weeks," said Ryan.

Guy Herbert said that he very much doubted whether any definite details for the scheme would transpire within weeks.

"It's very unlikely we'll see anything in a couple of weeks. No clue has been offered about how they will do the architecture — one strongly suspects they don't know themselves."

Although no details are yet available, the Home Office did give some tantalising glimpses of its plans for the National Identity Register. The plans involve the possibility of storing different parts of the database on different, existing systems.

"If there proves to be a lower-risk, lower-cost option in which [biographical and biometric] parts of the register are stored on different systems, I see no reason why we should not adopt this approach," said Ryan.

Ryan said the Home Office was going to look seriously at how to reuse existing records that have thousands of details on them, including police and immigration records.

Privacy campaigners have raised concerns about exactly who will have access to the information stored, a point which was addressed by Ryan on Thursday.

"[The Identity Cards Act] created a set of legal powers to store and provide basic biometric details. Existing legislation already covers how data will be shared, and data sharing will conform to the Data Protection Act."

"There's a danger of underestimating the public reaction to ID cards. People's trust in the scheme depends on protecting privacy and ensuring the scheme is properly used. More secure identification does not mean curtailing rights to privacy," Ryan added.

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