Which of Labour's big IT projects will survive the Tory axe?

What a Conservative government would mean for everything from ID cards to the National Programme for IT

What a Conservative government would mean for everything from ID cards to the National Programme for IT

With opinion polls showing the Conservatives as favourites to win the next general election, silicon.com takes a look at which Labour IT projects could survive under a Tory government.

From the controversial £5.4bn ID cards project to the £12.7bn National Programme for IT overhaul of healthcare tech - we examine which projects are likely to get the chop, how much could be saved by ditching them and how the IT landscape would differ under a Conservative government.

The projects

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

The National Programme for IT

Chance of survival: Low, likely to be subject to significant changes under the Tories.

The £12.7bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT) spans 10 projects, ranging from the creation of a nationwide NHS broadband network to the development of a single electronic medical record for each NHS patient.

The ambitious project will replace around 5,000 individual computer systems used by the NHS with a nationwide infrastructure connecting the more than 100,000 doctors, 380,000 nurses and 50,000 other health professionals that work in the health service.

Some projects have been completed and are now operational, such as the Picture Archiving and Communication System that allows the transfer of digital images between hospitals, now in place in all hospitals across England.

But the projects that have worked have been overshadowed by the delays affecting construction of the IT infrastructure needed to offer a single electronic medical record for every patient in England.

The records project, known as the Care Record Service (CRS), is intended to create a single electronic medical record for patients, stored on a central database called the Spine. The records will be accessible at all GP surgeries and hospitals in England via their patient administration systems (PASes). The project is now running four years late, largely due to delays in installing and upgrading hospital PAS to provide access to the records.

Two of the suppliers who were helping upgrade the PASes to be compatible with the CRS and able to link into the Spine, Accenture and Fujitsu, have walked away from the project, with Fujitsu claiming it was unable to come to a satisfactory agreement with the NHS over the cost of tailoring systems to local health trusts' needs.

According to a 2004 gateway review of the project by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), the key problem was the failure of the NHS technical agency, Connecting for Health, to consult with clinicians over what they wanted from the project.

Later OGC reviews of CRS rollout found bad feeling towards the project among clinicians had been compounded by the delays implementing the PASes and deploying the Spine central database, which limited the tasks the PASes could be used for.

What the Conservatives say

The Conservatives have pledged to abandon Labour's plans for a single electronic medical record held by the state.

Instead, the Conservatives want patients to decide where their records are stored, who has access to them and what details they contain.

Following the publication of an independent review into the NPfIT commissioned by the Tories, the party has begun consulting on how patients could be offered a choice of a number of private and state-run databases on which they could store their medical records.

The databases being considered range from the NHS-run HealthSpace portal - which can store both a patient's personal and medical information - through to private sector alternatives such as Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault.

The idea is the patient would then be able to determine who could access their medical records - from their GP through to hospital consultants - and possibly update the records with their own comments and additional information such as blood pressure readings.

It would be a significant shift away from today's model where patients have only limited online access to their medical records, and the first time NHS records could be put in the hands of schemes run by private companies.

The government can't be trusted to store a central electronic medical record - the Summary Care Record - according to the Conservatives with shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley calling the Spine "a huge security risk" last year.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said the competition to be chosen to store people's records would drive organisations to improve data security. He referred back to the HM Revenue and Customs' massive loss of child benefit data saying: "What do you think would have happened to a private company that lost 25 million people's records? They would go down.

"It is a marketplace. If, say, a bank loses your data or provides the wrong bit of data you can switch."

Before any medical records could be placed with private companies, however, there would be significant regulatory and security hurdles to overcome.

As well as considering the use of private sector databases, the Conservative review recommends allowing local health trusts to choose from a wider range of IT suppliers to give them a greater range of choice over the computer systems they install.

Shadow minister for innovation, universities and skills Adam Afriyie said: "Purchasing packages that are ready for implementation could also be more cost effective than building an expensive new system in-house."

To widen the NHS' list of IT suppliers, the Tories' independent review recommends halting and renegotiating contracts with the NHS' two remaining key suppliers for NPfIT, BT and CSC, who are overseeing the implementation of new patient administration systems at hospitals across England. It says this would "save further inefficiencies with regard to cost and delivery".

The Tories have also backed open standards, saying local systems within hospitals and GP surgeries should be "rigidly interoperable". The aim is to allow clinical information to be shared between hospitals and surgeries where needed without the need for a single electronic medical record stored centrally. Open source use will also be encouraged.

Continue to page three to find out how much the Tories would save by axing it and what Labour says about the scheme

How much would be saved by axing NPfIT?

A recent joint report by the Taxpayers Alliance and the Institute of Directors estimates that scrapping the scheme would produce annual savings of £1.18bn over the next seven years.

The sum is based on the project costing £14.6bn, which was calculated using inflation-adjusted figures from the parliamentary spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee. With £3.6bn already spent on the project as of March 2008, that would leave about £11bn to be spent over the remaining seven years that the project has to run - or potentially less if planned £600m government cuts to the NPfIT go ahead.

Using these figures, scrapping the scheme would produce savings of about £1.6bn per annum, a figure the Taxpayers Alliance cut to £1.18bn to take into account the additional costs that would be incurred as a result of scrapping the scheme.

Such costs include buying new systems and meeting penalty payouts to contractors for cancelling their NPfIT deals early.

The Department of Health's contracts with BT and CSC are worth more than £4bn and any attempts to renegotiate their terms and reduce their scope could trigger large compensation pay outs.

Anthony Miller, managing partner with analyst house TechMarketView, told silicon.com that going back on a deal could trigger legal action from vendors.

"If a new government reneges on a deal then the supplier would want to press for a compensation claim for a reasonable share of the contract value."

"When a government and a supplier get into contractual difficulties they can turn into long drawn out wrangles. It is in the best interest of neither the supplier or government," he said.

Any potential savings derived from axing the scheme could also be eroded by the cost and time it will take to ensure that the various private and public databases destined to hold the medical records can hold them in their current formats and are secure enough to do so.

Speaking to silicon.com in August Dr Grant Ingrams, chairman of the BMA joint GP IT committee, said: "Getting the national legal and IT compatibility requirements between existing NHS records and private sector databases is not going to be a straightforward thing to do," highlighting the example of the two-year delay to getting the patient administration system used by GPs to be compatible with the central summary care record.

Ingrams also warned that allowing patients to add their own notes and information to their medical records, or even allowing multiple clinicians to amend the same record, could lead to uncertainty over the accuracy of information.

Using private firms could also pose problems around privacy. According to Stewart Room, privacy law specialist with law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, laws governing the oversight of private sector data handling will need tightening before the medical records are stored with private companies.

As things stand today, it's more difficult for the UK privacy watchdog - the information commissioner - to enforce data security among private firms than it is in the public sector. Only public sector companies will be subject to unannounced spot checks by the Information Commissioner's Office under legislation proposed in the draft Coroners and Justice Bill, which is being considered by Parliament.

What the government says

In April of last year, Department of Health (DoH) CIO Christine Connelly said that good progress is being made in many areas, including digital imaging replacing physical X-ray images, the electronic transfer of records between GP surgeries and the building of the N3 broadband network linking hospitals, GP surgeries and other community health services.

The Picture Archiving and Communication System - the project to allow the electronic transfer of images between hospitals - is also up and running in all hospitals in England, and according to Connelly, has lead to patients receiving "faster and safer diagnoses and treatment".

She also praised the Choose and Book service - which allows GPs to book hospital appointments for patients - which she said is being used to book 54 per cent of all new outpatient appointments and has helped reduce the time taken to refer a patient to hospital from 25 to five days.

The Department of Health (DoH) is also taking its own steps to deal with the delays to the deployment of patient administration systems (PAS), allowing hospital trusts to customise their PASes and issuing an ultimatum to suppliers last April, telling them to speed up the delivery of Pas by November or risk seeing the DoH move to a new plan for delivering healthcare IT.

ID card

Photo credit: Chris Beaumont/silicon.com

ID cards

Chance of survival: None, the Tories have pledged to scrap both the ID cards scheme and its central database, the National Identity Register.

The £5.4bn project will provide a biometric identity card for both foreign nationals and British citizens living in the UK.

The cards will be used to verify a person's identity via their embedded microchip, which will store the cardholder's biographic information, their photograph and a scan of two of their fingerprints. These details can then be checked against copies of that information held in a central database called the National Identity Register (NIR).

The cards will be compulsory for all foreign nationals staying in the UK for longer than three months but will notionally be voluntary for UK citizens. There is debate over whether the cards will be truly voluntary for UK citizens, as anyone applying for a passport or any other "designated document" will have their details entered onto the NIR. While at present there are no other designated documents, there is provision in law for the government to deem other documents, such as driving licences, designated documents at a later date.

It will cost each person £60 to enrol for a card and there will be a fine of up to £1,000 for failing to update the government on changes of details held on the card.

Cards have already been made available to UK citizens living in Manchester ahead of cards being made available throughout the North West from 2010. The rest of the UK public will be able to get a card from 2012.

What the Conservatives say

With about 50 pieces of information to be stored on the central National Identity Register - more than what is stored on databases for biometric passports - the Tories are sceptical about the government's ability to keep such a large amount of personal data secure, citing numerous high profile data losses by central government such as HM Revenue and Customs' loss of 25 million people's details and the Home Office losing data on 84,000 prisoners.

Shadow minister for innovation, universities and skills, Adam Afriyie, told silicon.com the NIR "represents a massive intrusion into privacy".

In addition, the Tories say the cards are a waste of money, will fail to prevent illegal immigration and will not help stop further terrorist attacks on the UK.

Conservative shadow security minister Neville-Jones told silicon.com: "The government is putting billions of pounds of taxpayer's money into an ID card scheme which has been shown to be vulnerable to hacking and fraud.

"The cards are also not compulsory, so what use will they have? The fact is that there are simpler, less intrusive and in the end more effective ways of carrying out identity authentication.

"Instead of distracting itself with the ID card project, the government should concentrate on developing safe and secure second-generation biometric passports [passports containing chips with fingerprint scans]."

The Tories have pledged to scrap the ID cards scheme for both UK citizens and foreign nationals - ditching both the production of the cards themselves and the central National Identity Register database - and have written to those companies who are bidding for contracts to produce and support ID cards warning them the contracts will not be carried through.

By scrapping the scheme the Tories claim they would save enough money to create a dedicated Border Police Force, which they claim would do a better job at controlling illegal immigration and stopping terrorists from entering the UK.

Continue to page five to find out how much the Tories would save by axing it and what Labour says about the scheme

How much would be saved by axing the ID card scheme?

Scrapping ID cards and the National Identity Register (NIR) could save about £1.31bn over a decade.

The ID cards scheme will cost £1.31bn over the next 10 years according to Home Office projections, although this does not include the cost of setting up the NIR, which will hold information for both ID cards and second-generation biometric passports. Some of this cost will be met by the fees paid by members of the public for the ID cards although the Identity and Passport Service has not produced exact figures.

Public sector research company Kable claims that by axing the cards and the NIR but keeping second-generation passports the Conservatives would save £2.2bn over the next 10 years.

There would be further savings by axing the scheme for foreign nationals, with the estimated costs over the next 10 years standing at £379m, although the government says that much of these costs will be recovered by charging foreign nationals.

A problem lies in the outstanding agreements with companies who have been contracted to build the NIR and produce the cards.

As with their plans to renegotiate contracts within the NPfIT, it is unlikely the Tories would be able to extract themselves from the deals without being bound to pay out at least some of the contracts' value.

The Home Office has already signed four contracts for work on the National Identity Scheme, with the Home Office claiming that the Tories would be obliged to pay £40m for axing the ID cards scheme early.

What the government says

Labour insists ID cards will play an important role in reducing benefit fraud, tackling terrorism and simplifying how UK citizens prove their identity.

Defending the scheme in a parliamentary debate last July Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "At present, there is no single effective way of recording or establishing someone's identity.

"That makes people more vulnerable to identity fraud, makes the job of the police and others in tracking suspects more difficult, and makes proving one's own identity, or verifying someone else's identity, a laborious and complex process. It puts us in stark contrast to other European countries, most of which have a central and secure way of registering and tracking people's identity."

The party says that locking a person's identity to their unique biometric data will provide a secure method of verifying identity and reducing fraud.

The government claims that scrapping the scheme would only save about £1.3bn of the scheme's £5.4bn price tag, since the remainder of the cost will be spent on providing second generation biometric passports and the scheme for foreign nationals, or met by public fees.

Johnson claimed in the debate that if the scheme was scrapped the country would in fact lose money, as such a move would lead to an increase in the cost of fraud, which he said currently sets the UK back £1.2bn each year.

tories

(Photo credit: somegeekitn, via Flickr under the following Creative Commons licence)

ContactPoint

Chance of survival: None, the Tories have pledged to scrap ContactPoint.

The ContactPoint database was developed in response to the findings of the Laming Inquiry into the murder of the infant Victoria Climbie in 2000 and is aimed at meeting the review's recommendation on improving official information sharing.

The details of all 11 million children in England have been entered onto the database and from May last year 800 professionals at local authorities and children's charities began using the system.

ContactPoint works as an online directory that holds the details of every child in England.

The system is designed to provide a quick way for professionals who work with children - such as teachers, care workers, police and doctors - to find out who else is working with a particular child. ContactPoint also aims to make it easier for the different bodies involved to share information.

As well as storing the unique identifying number assigned to each child, the database holds the name, address, gender and date of birth of all under-18s. It also contains the contact details for their parents or carers, school, GP and other professionals who have come into contact with that child.

What the Conservatives say

The Conservatives have pledged to scrap the ContactPoint database, claiming the detailed information it contains poses a risk to children in England.

The party says it would replace ContactPoint with a smaller database that contains just the details of the children who are considered to be at risk, such as those living in families where there have been reports of domestic violence.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said that a single database containing the details of all children in England is both unnecessary and dangerous.

"Instead of ending up with a database on the children at risk, what you end up with is a database on all children.

"The net result is that you have a massive, ponderous database that is over large, ill-designed and about everything. It needs to be treated like a bank vault because some of the stuff in it is incredibly sensitive."

Shadow minister for innovation, universities and skills Adam Afriyie added: "Storing young people's information on a central database might make children more vulnerable, given the government's appalling record on data security."

How much would be saved by axing ContactPoint?

The latest estimates are that ContactPoint will cost £224m to develop and set up.

If a Conservative government is elected in May 2010, the latest an election can be held, then this money would still have been spent. However, the administration could save the £44m that it has been estimated it will cost to run the database each year.

It is unclear whether any part of the infrastructure built for ContactPoint could be reused to support the database for children at risk that has been proposed by the Tories.

What the government says

According to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls, speaking last May, the database is "a vital tool designed to help keep children safe".

Balls said ContactPoint will plug a historical gap in the support provided to children at risk, where previously a professional would have no way of discovering what other support services had been offered to the child.

Children's minister Delyth Morgan said when ContactPoint is fully operational it would save "at least five million hours of professionals' time" by providing an easy way for social workers to discover what other bodies, such as police or social services elsewhere, have been in contact with the child.

firefighter

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

FiReControl

Chance of survival: Low, the Tories have pledged to scrap any regional control centres that are not in place at the time they are elected.

The FiReControl project will create nine regional fire control centres that will co-ordinate the actions of the 45 fire and rescue services across England, replacing the 46 fire control rooms that are currently used in England.

Under the existing set up, each local fire control centre has limited information on how fire services are tackling blazes outside of their local area.

FiReControl's regional control centres will have access to the same information about incidents, for example how many fire crews are tackling a fire or the nature of a blaze, no matter where they occur in the country. This shared information is aimed at giving the regional control centres the same ability to manage and deploy fire services on a local, regional or national level.

The centres will communicate with firefighters using a secure Airwave-based digital radio system fitted in fire engines called Firelink. A range of technologies will allow the centre to identify where an emergency call is being made from, pinpoint the location of fire service vehicles using GPS information and upload information to mobile data terminals fitted in the cabs of fire engines. This information could include hazards in the building, floor plans and access details and the location of the nearest hydrant and water supplies.

Work on the project began in 2004 and, in 2007, a £200m, eight-year contract for supplying the IT infrastructure was awarded to EADS Defence and Security Systems.

Difficulties in installing the IT infrastructure for the centres has led to the government twice delaying their completion date: all nine centres were originally due to go live in 2009 but this has now been pushed back to 2012.

So far about 30 of the UK's 45 fire and rescue services have had more than 5,300 vehicles fitted with Firelink Airwave radio systems.

What the Conservatives say

The Conservatives are opposed to the project and if elected to government have pledged to scrap any of the regional control centres that have yet to be put in place.

Setting out their stance in a policy green paper, the Conservatives claim that, because the regional control centres will cost more to run than the existing local control rooms, regionalisation "poses a serious threat to the quality of local fire services".

"This leaves the prospect that local fire authorities will have to then pick up the bill - through cuts to other services or via increasing the fire precept on council tax," the paper said.

The Tories have also accused Labour of pushing ahead with the £1bn project despite evidence that it will have little benefit to public, citing a communities and local government select committee report that stated "there is no evidence to suggest any overall saving", adding the committee was "unconvinced that the government can offer the assurance of maintained or improved service quality resulting from the FiReControl project".

Conservatives also say that any cost benefit of FiReControl has disappeared, after a 2008 report put the projected cost of building and running the centres from 2004 to 2021 at £971m, £114m more than predicted the year before.

The Conservatives favour the approach taken in Scotland, where the Holyrood parliament has abandoned regionalisation of fire service but is introducing digital radios and GPS tracking for fire service vehicles.

Under the Scottish plans the Tories aim to follow, a small number of fire control rooms would be upgraded to act as national "super centres" in the case of a national emergency.

How much would be saved by axing FiReControl?

Despite eight out of nine of the centres being built there could still be considerable savings from scrapping the project.

The centres will cost £849m to build and run over the period from 2010 to 2021, according to projections by the government. It's possible a large proportion of that amount could be saved: none of the centres will actually go live until 2011, by which time any incoming Conservative government is likely to have scrapped the entire project.

However, by the time the next General Election takes place, FiReControl will have already cost £122m and there is a question mark over how much of the system's infrastructure could be reused to avoid wasting this money.

What the government says

Labour claims that the regional control centres will improve firefighters' ability to respond to everyday house fires as well as national incidents such as terrorism.

"On a day-to-day basis, the new system will improve firefighter safety, the management of incidents and both the efficiency and responsiveness of the service," Communities minister Shahid Malik said in a written statement to the House of Commons in July.

Malik claimed the mobile data terminals, and the satellite and emergency call tracking will make firefighters more efficient in responding to incidents.

"Control rooms will share calls across the network to manage even the highest call volumes and thereby be more resilient in emergencies.

"The new network will also improve the country's ability to respond to terrorism, large-scale industrial accidents and natural disasters such as flooding," he added.


(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

The National DNA Database

Chance of survival: High, while the details of millions of innocent people will be removed under the Tories, the database itself is likely to remain in operation.

The National DNA Database (NDNAD) holds the DNA profiles of an estimated 4.4 million people in the UK - almost seven per cent of the population.

Every time police in England and Wales arrest an individual for a crime, their profile is taken and stored indefinitely on the NDNAD.

In December 2008, the European court of human rights criticised the "blanket and indiscriminate nature" of government's powers to keep DNA samples and profiles on the register. The court ruled that this constituted a disproportionate interference with the right to respect for private life violating article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

What the Conservatives says

In the policy paper, Reversing the Role of the Surveillance State, published in September last year, shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said that under a Conservative government the DNA profiles of innocent people would be kept in the database for no longer than five years.

Under Tory plans people who were arrested but not convicted of a crime will have their DNA profile wiped from the database. The only exception would be people charged with certain crimes of violence or serious sexual offences, who would have DNA kept for three years, with the possibility of extending this to five years if backed by a judge.

According to a separate Tory policy paper on the NDNAD, the widespread retention of DNA is incompatible with a "society founded on the basis that someone is innocent until proven guilty".

The Conservative policy paper attacks the government's intention to grow the number of profiles stored on the NDNAD regardless of individuals' guilt or innocence. It states: "Under the National DNA Database as currently constituted this presumption is reversed. You are always regarded as potentially guilty unless shown to be innocent. Everyone is a potential suspect."

The Tories claim that the database has doubled in size since its creation in 2002 but the number of crimes solved directly because of a DNA match has fallen during the period from 21,098 in 2002/03 to 17,614 in 2007/08.

The Conservatives argue that priority should be placed on obtaining the DNA profiles of those who were convicted of serious offences prior to the creation of the NDNAD and whose DNA is not currently on the database, as well as collecting profiles of offenders returning from overseas.

People younger than 18 who are convicted of a crime should only have their DNA profiles recorded on the database for five years, other than those convicted of a serious sexual, violent or terrorist offence, say the Tories.

Under the Tory plans, DNA would still be taken from suspects but would be removed from the database at the point when they were no longer the subject of a criminal investigation.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said England and Wales should mimic the approach taken in Scotland, where DNA samples of innocent people are kept for a maximum of five years.

He said: "You may end up with the same size database but it will be all guilty people.

"The Scottish system has a higher conviction rate for every time DNA evidence is used in a court case, it demonstrates that a targeted database works better than a bloated one."

How much will be saved by axing NDNAD?

Little if anything, given the Conservatives are not planning to scrap the database itself and the Tory proposals are also likely to result in a similar number of people's details being kept on the database - owing to the decision to include individuals convicted of serious offences prior to the creation of the NDNAD, as well as those convicted of serious offences abroad.

What the government says

Following the ruling by the European court of human rights, the government has introduced draft legislation that will reduce the storage time for DNA samples of people arrested but not charged with an offence to six years.

The change will be brought in under the Crime and Security Bill, which will also allow police to take DNA samples and fingerprints of sexual and seriously violent offenders returning to the UK following a conviction overseas.

In a consultation paper published in May 2008, the Home Office said the "UK leads the world in the use of DNA to solve crimes, to catch criminals and to clear the innocent".

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

Chance of survival: Low, the Tories have pledged to review Ripa and reduce the number of organisations that can use the legislation for snooping.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) passed into law in November 2003.

Under the act UK telecoms providers and ISPs are asked to keep records of who their customers phoned and where from; who they emailed and when; and the login details of subscribers and details of what websites they visited - all for up to 12 months.

The introduction of Ripa allowed a range of authorities - including the police and security services - to request the telecoms or internet service provider hand over these details. The number of public bodies who could make use of the data was subsequently extended to include other organisations such as local councils.

In 2008 police, public bodies made more than half a million requests to see communications data.

This has led to allegations by opposition politicians and privacy campaigners that Britain has "sleepwalked into a surveillance society".

What the Conservatives say

A Conservative government will review Ripa and cut the number of organisations that can use the act to snoop on comms data.

Shadow security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones has deemed Ripa as a "stark example of function creep" and dubbed it the "Investigatory Free for All Act".

"The Conservative Party has said that on entering office it will review Ripa to limit the number of organisations which are allowed to collect and have access to communications data and surveillance powers, and to strengthen the systems of oversight.

"For example, a Conservative government will restrict the use of Ripa powers by local authorities to serious criminal offences, defined as those which could be subject to a custodial sentence," she told silicon.com.

The Conservatives are critical of the rapid growth in the number of public bodies that can use the act to access comms, saying this now extends to 474 local councils in England, every NHS trust and fire service, 139 prisons, the Environment Agency and the Royal Mail.

A Tory government would introduce new laws requiring a council leader or magistrate to sign off any use of Ripa to access comms data.

Neville-Jones and the Conservatives say that since its introduction the grounds on which authorities can access the retained data has spread from "national security" to "economic well-being", "protecting public health" and "tax collection".

"As a result, the legislation has been abused to snoop on dog fouling, which schools children attend and whether households are recycling correctly," she said.

More recently in the report Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State the Conservatives pledged to introduce a British Bill of Rights to ensure a right to privacy and also to make sure new data-sharing powers are introduced through primary legislation, meaning they will have to be voted on by Parliament, rather than being able to be introduced by ministerial order.

How much would be saved by axing Ripa?

Figures obtained by the BBC last year showed that the average cost for a police request for information under Ripa was £18 per time.

Given that latest figures show 500,000 requests being made under Ripa in the first six months of 2009, making it harder for authorities to obtain data under Ripa for more trivial investigations the Conservatives could shave millions off the cost of meeting such requests.

What the government says

The Home Office claims that its ability to intercept and obtain communications data is vital to fighting terrorism.

In a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research Commission in October 2008, the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "Our ability to intercept communications and obtain communications data is vital to fighting terrorism and combating serious crime, including child sex abuse, murder and drugs trafficking."

However, the government is taking steps to tighten up how the act is used. In November last year the Home Office announced it was altering the way Ripa powers were used to make it harder for officials to use Ripa to investigate relatively trivial matters, such as littering.

The Home Office said that council officials who wanted to carry out surveillance using Ripa powers would in future need permission from a senior executive in the council, rather than a junior officer. It also said training should be given to local agencies to help them better judge whether the seriousness of the offence being investigated warranted the intrusiveness of Ripa surveillance.

interception modernisation programme

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Interception Modernisation Programme

Chance of survival: Low, the Tories have pledged to review the IMP with a view to reducing the requirement to store all online communications data.

The proposed Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) is aimed at allowing law enforcement and the security services to better monitor internet communications.

Under the programme, the government intends to monitor and record the traffic data of all UK internet communications and telecommunications, including instant messaging and VoIP.

This data would then be retained by the ISPs and the telecoms companies. The cost of storing this data would be met by the government.

The cost of intercepting and logging the vast amount of online data sent and received in the UK each year has been estimated by the government at £2bn. But academics at the London School of Economics have expressed doubts over the figure and Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, has previously suggested that the cost could be as high as £12bn.

The Home Office is consulting telecoms and internet service providers on how the IMP could work but is yet to submit a draft legislation.

What the Conservatives say

If elected, the Conservative government plans to launch a review to determine the future of the IMP.

Shadow security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones told silicon.com that, as the proposals stand, too much information would be captured under the IMP and said she had "severe doubts" about whether collecting such a vast amount of data was a sensible use of resources.

She said that the review would "examine how useful existing powers are to law enforcement and intelligence authorities before suggesting that even more communications data should be collected.

"If there is a capability gap a Conservative government would investigate non-intrusive, targeted solutions".

The review of the IMP would be conducted jointly with the UK privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office.

These would include options such as "requiring ISPs to collect extra comms data for people who had come to the attention of the authorities" she said.

The Conservatives back the aims of the first strand of the IMP, to develop the ability to more easily monitor online communications. However they are likely to reduce the requirement for ISPs and telcos to store traffic details on all UK online comms information.

She told silicon.com that the government had failed to provide "any evidence to suggest that the universal collection, retention and processing of communications data would actually provide more value to intelligence and law enforcement investigations than the targeted collection of communications data in relation to specific individuals or groups."

Privacy is another major concern for the Conservatives, with Neville-Jones saying in a speech earlier this year that the only way to make sense of such a large mass of information would be data mining - a process that would involve looking through the records of millions of innocent people looking for patterns that indicate criminal activity.

She claims the recent Home Office consultation document on the IMP contains a lack of detail about the scope of the powers and capabilities of the programme, as well as who would oversee the programme to prevent breaches in privacy.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said: "What the state has been trying to do is to extend the unwarranted surveillance."

He said that it would be hard to pull useful information from such a large database without using data mining, which he described as "a very poor technique" that often delivers a "vast number of false positive" matches.

"The bigger the database the harder it is to extract that data."

Finally there is the question of who would have access to the information: Neville-Jones claims that local councils would have access to it under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. She believes that only a handful of bodies, such as the security services, should have access to that data.

How much would be saved by axing the IMP?

The estimated cost for establishing the IMP ranges from £2bn and £12bn, suggesting that abandoning the plans for storing all communications could save billions for the public purse.

What the government says

The government claims that police and the security services need to be able to intercept all forms of communications to avoid giving organised crime and terrorists the upper hand.

With a growing amount of communication taking place via email, IM, VoIP or other online services, former home secretary Jacqui Smith argued that the scheme is about protecting the public.

"For the police, the security and intelligence agencies, and other public authorities like the emergency services, being able to use the details about a communication - not its content, but when, how and to whom it was made - can make all the difference in their work to protect the public," she said in a foreword to the IMP consultation document in April 2009.

The government has already stripped back earlier, more far-reaching proposals for the IMP, ruling out storing the information in a centralised database controlled by the state on the grounds that it would be too intrusive.

digital britain

Photo credit: Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Digital Britain

Chance of survival: Low, the Tories have pledged to find new ways of funding the rollout of high speed fibre optic connections in the UK.

The Digital Britain report, published last year, was the government's blueprint for UK's technological future, written by then communications minister Lord Carter.

The report covered a range of areas - setting a target for universal broadband at speeds of up to 2Mbps across the UK by 2012, what money should be invested in superfast fibre broadband connections, how to boost IT skills, how to trade the wireless spectrum, how to stop illegal sharing of copyrighted files online and how to provide public services over the internet, to name a selection.

One of its key proposals is for a £6 annual tax on all fixed copper landlines in the UK to fund the expansion of fast fibre optic connections to rural areas. Carter said it is likely that telecoms companies will deliver what he calls "next generation broadband" to between 50 and 60 per cent of the UK and says the tax will help fund its provision for the final third of the population.

The tax, known as the Next Generation Levy, is set to pass into law this year.

In the Digital Britain report, Carter also sets out a vision for delivering a universal broadband service through a combination of government investment, commercial tender and extension or change to existing mobile licences.

To free up the UK's mobile networks to play a bigger part in delivering universal broadband, the report includes plans for "a programme of spectrum liberalisation, auction packaging, auction release timetable, licence change, licence liberalisation".

It also sets out measures for dealing with the illegal file-sharing of copyrighted material, recommending that ISPs should be able to use technical measures such as bandwidth throttling to combat repeat P2P offenders and that telecoms regulator Ofcom should be given an explicit duty of reducing piracy by notifying and identifying serial infringers. This would allow copyright holders to take legal action where appropriate.

Last year the government introduced the Digital Economy Bill, which tackles the issue of file-sharing, albeit in a more stringent fashion than that proposed by the Digital Britain report. The bill, currently working its way through Parliament, includes a 'three strikes and you're out' plan to cut off the most persistent file-sharers.

What the Conservatives say

The Conservatives are in favour of ditching the £6 annual broadband tax and fast-tracking proposals to crack down on illegal filesharing.

In a withering assessment of the Digital Britain report, shadow secretary for culture Jeremy Hunt said the £6 annual tax on copper lines is both unnecessary and insufficient to provide fibre connections across the UK.

Speaking in a statement to the House of Commons in June last year he said: "Rather than taxing, should we not be seeking to stimulate investment through the regulatory structure? The cable revolution happened without a cable tax. The satellite revolution happened without a satellite tax.

"Unfortunately the numbers don't add up either. This tax will, according to the government, raise £150m per annum. So can the Secretary of State confirm that at this rate it will take 20 years to cover the estimated £3bn cost - and that is just to reach street cabinets, not people's homes?"

Criticising the report for doing little to address Britain's lack of fibre optic infrastructure Hunt added: "Can the Secretary of State explain why, when America, France and Japan are laying fibre optic cable to thousands of homes, Britain's operators have barely started to think about it?

"The British government has stood by as BT makes minimal investment, protected by a monopoly over the 'local loop'?"

The Tories have also said they would strip Ofcom of its policy-making functions and give its powers, such as licensing spectrum and monitoring BT, back to Parliament.

Continue to page 12 to find out how much the Tories would save by axing it and what Labour says about the scheme

How much would be saved by axing the broadband tax?

The Conservatives are likely to scrap the annual tax on fixed copper landlines, saving UK residents and businesses £175m each year.

Shadow secretary of state for culture Jeremy Hunt seems confident that market forces will drive the private sector to fund the rollout of superfast fibre connections across the UK without the need for state subsidy.

Less clear is how the Conservatives would fund the universal broadband commitment, particularly given Hunt's scepticism that there will be enough money left over from that set aside to fund the switchover from analogue to digital television broadcasting.

Despite demanding that universal broadband is given a higher priority, the party has not indicated how it would fund the acceleration of upgrades to telephone exchanges.

What the government says

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Ben Bradshaw, claims the report shows the way towards building a "digital communications infrastructure that will help power the country's future success".

The proposed £6 broadband tax is the "fairest and most efficient way of ensuring that people and businesses are not left out", he said in a speech to the House of Commons in June.

The report's plans for the "structured release of sufficient high-quality spectrum" will allow the creation of "next generation of mobile networks" across Europe, Hunt said.

"This will ensure that the UK is among the earliest countries to deploy these networks and that UK consumers continue to enjoy the benefits of vigorous competition," he said.

airplane

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

e-Borders scheme

Chance of survival: Medium, the Tories have pledged to scale back the current requirement to store all journey data for up to 10 years.

The ongoing £1.2bn e-Borders scheme is aimed at allowing the government to track every journey into and out of the UK.

The computer systems underpinning the scheme which collect and forward passenger data to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) began being installed at airports, rail stations and ferry terminals in 2005.

Work to install systems at every UK border entry point is continuing and by December 2010 the UKBA aims to collect details for 95 per cent of people travelling to or from the UK.

The e-Borders' systems extract details of passengers and crew from computer systems run by airlines, train operators and ferry companies and forward them to a government database. When e-Borders systems are fully deployed they are expected to handle passenger details for an estimated 250 million journeys into and out of the UK each year.

The details that are passed on to the UBKA include passenger names, date of travel, method of payment and place of ticket issue. These are checked against details on a watchlist of known criminal and terrorist suspects and kept in the government database for up to 10 years.

The cost to airlines of upgrading existing hardware and running systems for e-Borders is estimated to be £242m over 10 years.

The e-Borders project is run from the e-Borders operations centre, which is a multi-agency operation staffed by officers from the UK Border Agency and the police.

What the Conservatives say

The Conservatives would scale back e-Borders' requirement to store all journey data for up to 10 years.

Shadow security minister Neville-Jones said the Tories would only retain data on journeys made by terrorist or criminal suspects.

"We disagree with the government's plans to retain all travel data for everyone entering and leaving the country in a centralised database for 10 years," she said.

"A Conservative government would reform the e-Borders scheme so that it does not hold information about innocent people."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling also believes the scale of the information that will be collected under the scheme is disproportionate.

In a statement to the House of Commons in June last year Grayling said: "I do not believe that we need to maintain detailed records of 10 years of holiday arrangements, holiday partners or credit card statements for every citizen who wants to go on holiday."

However the party does not oppose the principle of the e-Borders scheme, namely checking passenger information against watchlists of suspected dangerous individuals.

The Conservatives are also critical of the implementation of the scheme: Neville-Jones said the technologies and processes used by the government will be difficult and expensive for airline operators to make compatible with their systems.

How much would be saved by axing it?

The Conservatives are not planning to scrap the scheme. However, a Tory government could potentially cut its cost by not retaining passenger data for the 10-year timeframe proposed by Labour.

What the government says

The UKBA has been collecting the details of passengers travelling to and from the UK since 2005.

Since e-Borders systems started collecting passenger information they have generated alerts that have resulted in more than 4,900 arrests, for crimes including murder, kidnap, sexual offences, assault, drugs trafficking, smuggling and fraud.

The UKBA believes the e-Borders project has an important role to play in increasing national security, stating on its website that it has "shown that capturing information about passengers before they travel can help us strengthen our border. It does this by giving us tighter control and providing an electronic record of passengers' movements".


(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Police Central e-Crime Unit

Chance of survival: High, the Tories have pledged to beef up the unit with more funding.

The Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU) is a specialist police unit that co-ordinates the law enforcement of online offences nationwide and leads investigations into the UK's most serious e-crime incidents, such as those where more than 10,000 people have had their identities stolen online.

The PCeU works with the 43 police forces in England and Wales to support them in tackling online crime, including helping to set up regional cybercrime units that will provide expertise and tools for local investigations.

It will also help collate and disperse information on e-crime collected by the National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC). The NFRC will provide a central phone line and web portal for members of the public and businesses to report all fraud, including e-crime, when it goes live this year.

The PCeU is also working on protecting the London 2012 Olympic Games from online threats and collating fraud reports from online auction site eBay.

The 30-man PCeU is based within London Metropolitan Police Service and has £7m of funding over the next three years.

What the Conservatives say

The Conservatives want to pump more money into the PCeU and fighting e-crime in general, with former shadow home secretary David Davis telling silicon.com that the funding needed to be "an order of magnitude bigger".

Shadow security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones said: "The Conservative Party has been clear that Police Central e-Crime Unit is not a panacea - there are big questions over the resources it has.

"The Metropolitan Police has had to merge its Computer Crime Unit with PCeU to provide the new unit with additional funding to develop the skills and knowledge it needs.

"But let's be clear: although it is meant to provide a national investigative capacity, PCeU is too small to shoulder this burden alone.

"Acpo [the Association of Chief Police Officers] needs to rapidly put in place collaborative e-crime hubs in the police regions that bring together dispersed specialist resources. Furthermore, all police officers also need to have a basic understanding of e-crime policing requirements and techniques."

The UK's failure to provide a coherent and well-funded response to e-crime has helped online fraud such as phishing grow unchecked, according to Davis.

"This is an area of crime that is exploding under our noses," he told silicon.com.

"They [phishing emails] used to be misspelled with bad grammar but now they are more subtle and harder to spot. That is the problem if you allow crime to grow it gets more sophisticated."

Since the government disbanded the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit in 2006 a string of organisations have sprung up to fill its remit of dealing with cyber crime. These include the PCeU, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) e-crime unit, the appointment of the City of London Police as the national lead force for fraud and, from September, the Office of Cyber Security.

The Conservatives want to simplify the structure and reduce repeated work between the various organisations.

Neville-Jones said: "There are so many different agencies working in this area - GCHQ, the Metropolitan Police, Soca and others - that there is no common operating picture or threat assessment.

"As a result there is no knowledge about how vulnerable the UK actually is or the scale of the challenge the country faces. Government should look at the possibility of having one body tasked with bringing together cyber security and cyber crime assessments and putting in place clear reporting requirements and guidelines for the private sector and individuals."

The Conservatives also want to review the powers of the UK's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office, to ensure the role is "designed to maximise political accountability in our country".

To tackle the cyber security threat to UK national infrastructure the Conservatives would create a Cyber Threat and Assessment Centre (CTAC).

The centre would act as a central reporting point for all cyber attacks that threaten national infrastructure and provide intelligence on the online threats facing the UK. Intelligence from the CTAC would be fed into a National Operations Centre, which would be established at a later date, whose role would be to co-ordinate the UK's response to cyber attacks.

A second government body, the Cyber Security and Information Assurance Unit, would be created to set national cyber security policy and standards for government departments, suppliers to government and critical infrastructure operators.

How much would be saved by axing the PCeU?

The Tories have no intention of axing it and instead have pledged to increase funding to tackle the issue of cybercrime.

What the government says

The Home Office says the PCeU will allow the 43 forces in England and Wales to provide a co-ordinated and informed response to e-crime.

When the PCeU was launched in September 2008 the then minister for policing, security and crime Vernon Coaker said: "The Police Central e-crime Unit will also play a vital role in helping police forces across the country improve skills and techniques needed to clamp down on e-crime."

In a written statement to Parliament last year minister for crime reduction, Alan Campbell, said of the PCeU: "This will provide support to the Police Service in developing a structured response to online crime, and its initial focus will be on the area of fraud-related electronic crime, working with the NFRC to develop a response to reports on such matters."

The government has also established a new body within the Cabinet Office, the Office of Cyber Security, to set national cyber security policy and co-ordinate the activities of the different agencies that handle cyber security.

It has also set up the Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC), at GCHQ in Cheltenham, to monitor online threats to UK national infrastructure and oversee the UK's response to cyber attacks.

army MoD

Photo credit: MoD

Defence Information Infrastructure

Chance of survival: High, the Tories have reserved criticism for the way the project has been implemented rather than the project itself.

The Defence Information Infrastructure is intended to provide a single information infrastructure serving the army, navy, airforce and central MoD command.

When complete the system is aimed at supporting 150,000 terminals and 300,000 users at more than 2,000 sites, as well as troops and Royal Navy ships. The EDS-led Atlas consortium won the contract to design, install and run the DII back in 2005.

The project is now 18 months late and while the original estimated cost for the DII programme was £5.85bn, this has since risen to £7.1bn.

The DII system was supposed to have 62,800 terminals installed by the end of July 2007 but these were not in place until February 2009.

According to a 2008 report into the project by parliamentary spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the project was held up by problems with software delivery and a failure to properly assess the buildings where the terminals would be installed - many of which were found to contain asbestos.

The delays also meant the MoD was forced to rely on legacy systems for longer than intended, leading to an increased risk of system failure, according to the PAC report.

What the Conservatives say

The project is unlikely to face the axe as the Conservatives have focused most of their criticism on the delays and mistakes in the rollout of the project to date.

The Conservatives have attacked what they said was Labour's failure to properly prepare for building the DII system.

Commenting at the time of the critical report by the PAC, the shadow secretary for defence Dr Liam Fox said: "The government's failure to do the proper ground work on this project is resulting in higher costs to the taxpayer and greater risks to the whole MoD IT system, which in turn poses an unacceptable risk to national security.

"Labour has consistently mishandled the personal data of members of the Armed Forces, which will do nothing to ease the crisis of recruitment and retention we now face. The government needs to get its act together."

Fox criticised MoD officials for not conducting a small scale pilot rollouts of the technology used in the DII, in spite of the PAC finding that the programme was both "complex and the timetable ambitious".

Former shadow home secretary David Davis attacked the whole idea of the DII.

"Integrated databases often make things worse. There's a great virtue in having a small database that does exactly what you want and no more," he said.

How much would be saved by axing the DII?

The Conservatives have expressed no interest in axing the scheme.

What the government says

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) claims the DII will be a major benefit to the UK's armed forces.

By providing a single network of information it says it will allow improved information sharing and collaboration between headquarters, support teams and troops on the front line, as well as improving co-operation between the allied forces.

When complete the MoD says the link will extend from Whitehall to headquarters anywhere in the world, with 24/7 support for the service where necessary.

The MoD claims the work will provide an essential comms link to many armed forces sites, stating that a large number of the 2,000 sites are having communication links put in under the DII have limited or no connectivity.