Despite widespread and deeply-held worries about the purposes, practicalities, usefulness and cost of the Government's proposed ID card scheme, there are no signs that the project is being reconsidered. Instead, it is being pushed through at speed.
Such an enormously expensive scheme with such long-term repercussions for the nation needs more openness, care and sober discussion, not less, than other legislation. It needs a detailed cost-benefit risk-based analysis - and this isn't just jargon. We need to know exactly what the investment will bring us, how it will work, and what the risks are to us of it going wrong. Are there cheaper, less intrusive ways of achieving the same thing? Will we be properly protected?
Needless to say, there is very little of this coming from the Government. The LSE's detailed 300 page report is by far the closest we'll see - it covers all of the above and comes to a damning conclusion - and that has been summarily dismissed as "completely wrong" and "mad" by Home Secretary Charles Clarke. How do the Government's figures stack up? We can't tell. We haven't been allowed to see them. That, Mr Clarke, is a better definition of completely wrong.
One figure that the Home Office is delighted that we see is the 80 percent of the UK in favour of ID cards, according to an independent study from last year - a study commissioned by Detica, a security and IT consultancy that gets £46m a year from government consultancy now and will undoubtedly get much more if ID cards kick off. The Home Office hasn't mentioned that the same study also showed half unwilling to pay anything and a further 31 percent unprepared to pay more than £25. And 60 percent had little or no confidence in the Government's ability to introduce the system without hitches.
At least we're firmly behind that 60 percent. On its record, the Government has an addiction to consultant-led daftness that it pushes through at great expense and with little attention paid to ideas from outside the consultocracy. You might like to ask the Treasury how well that works as it considers taking its major supplier EDS to court over the tax credit fiasco. EDS, of course, is massively in favour of ID cards and is pitching for a large share of the business.
The Government also has a record of ignoring or declawing protective measures built into legislation -- for example, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in 2000 was supposed to control the use of electronic surveillance and database access by official bodies. Yet there are still no specific statutory penalties for officials who abuse the powers that RIPA gives them, unlike the ever increasing punishments doled out to the rest of us for transgressing data laws. Reform here would be a very good step in convincing us that the Government is serious about protecting our rights, rather than abusing them for its convenience.
If none of the above concerns are addressed, then the ID card system will reveal at least one true identity - that of the people who claim to work for us, but whose real motivation lies elsewhere.