The government has scrapped plans for a central data-sharing system through which the personal records of everyone in the country were to be shared with all government departments.
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The plans to turn the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Customer Information System (CIS) into a cross-government citizen database, called CISx, have been scrapped after three years in which system designers could find no cost-effective way of linking it with other departments' systems.
The DWP said the plans were dropped after the government announced in May that it would axe the National Identity Scheme.
"CISx was being developed by DWP and IPS [Identity and Passport Service], to support the National Identity Service (NIS). The government has closed the NIS programme and as a consequence development plans for CISx were stopped," said the DWP in a statement.
The CISx plan was hatched in 2007 in consultation with the DVLA, and was earmarked for joint development by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as well as the IPS and DWP.
Richard Jones, CISx project lead, said in the Summer 2007 issue of internal DWP magazine Project Brief: "DWP will be the provider of the CISx service for all departments and, alongside HMRC and IPS, influence its direction and fund its development.
"This is a groundbreaking and complex delivery, however we are committed to developing CISx as a shared asset...There are a number of departments interested in using the service...more are joining the queue every day."
A DWP executive told Computer Weekly that the queuing departments never developed a serious interest in CISx. HMRC planned to shelve its own citizens database and replace it with links to CISx, but the plan did not progress as far as setting a date for the transfer.
The CISx proposal was developed into a system design that was never signed off because the "costs and complexities" meant the blueprint could not be decisively fixed and the DWP was uncertain whether it could be done.
"You increase costs the more you make things complex. Saying you have an affordable solution on something that is in essence a database record of a person's personal details is one thing," he said, describing the existing CIS database.
The CISx plan was "quite another thing", he said. The DWP already allows other government departments and local authorities to view the 96 million citizen records in its CIS. CISx would have allowed public bodies to add their own data, requiring multiple logical extensions of each record.
The CISx plans were developed after the IPS stated in December 2006 that the ID scheme would use the DWP database as its biographical core. They were agreed by ministers in 2007 in a period when civil servants were repeatedly being caught and often sacked for snooping on personal data in the system.
The government pressed ahead with the CISx plan despite repeated warnings from the ID scheme's Independent Scheme Advisory Panel about its security risks, costs and complexities.
The scrapping of CISx leaves separate government departments to manage their own citizen databases.