ID cards chief dismisses U-turn claims

The head of the ID cards project says revisions to the ID cards scheme will cut costs and show the government is listening
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

The head of Britain's ID cards project and national identity database has defended the government's revised ID-card plans in the face of allegations of a U-turn, after the project was scaled back.

James Hall, director of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), told ZDNet.co.uk sister site silicon.com that the revised scheme is likely to cut £1bn off the scheme's £5.4bn price tag, that power-station workers are likely to join airport workers and Olympic security staff as the first UK citizens in line for the cards, and that the cards may be used to prove identity over the internet.

But UK businesses remain critical, with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) fearing that companies could be liable if they provide inaccurate information to the National Identity Register and expressing unease over the security of the data that will be held on it.

Shadow home secretary David Davis launched a further attack, citing the risk of a massive data breach on the system. He said: "It is something very dangerous the government [is] doing. We would cancel this database."

It also emerged that employers at so-called "trusted workers", which will get the cards first, such as BAA, are likely to continue picking up the bill for pre-employment checks under the ID-card system.

Hall said the decision to delay a Parliamentary vote on making ID cards compulsory for British citizens until 2015 was an example of the government "listening to people" and to the recommendations of a wider report into "identity assurance" by former banking chief Sir James Crosby.

Hall said he was confident that making the scheme voluntary from 2010 would increase take-up of the £30 ID cards among the public.

Hall said: "We assume that we will get a very high level of take-up, more than with the previous arrangement by tying the take-up to passport renewal. We are taking a benefit-led approach. The consumer will be able to choose whether they want to have an ID card or a passport. We will enable people with cards to quickly and easily access public services."

Biometric data for the cards is likely to be captured by private companies, with people paying for the service.

Hall insisted that the changes were not what prompted Accenture, BAE Systems and, more recently, Steria to pull out of the procurement process to build the ID-card computer system, describing the remaining bidders as "incredibly positive".

Hall added that security and Criminal Records Bureau checks carried out with ID cards would be far quicker and easier for the employer and employees.

Hall said that cards could later be used to confirm identity online using a PIN stored on the card.

Anyone renewing or applying for a new passport from 2011 onwards will be required to add their biometric details to the National Identity Register, but they won't now be forced to pay for a physical ID card and can instead choose to just use their passport.

Foreign nationals living in Britain will have to register their biometric details on the National Identity Register and carry an ID card by the end of this year.

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