Colin Beveridge wonders if the government has a hidden agenda behind David Blunkett's ID card scheme.
So, the Home Secretary thinks we should have the opportunity to buy state-of-the-art identity cards, incorporating biometric data such as retina scan and/or fingerprint details.
On a scale of my personal priorities from one to 10, this scheme scores a zero, not even on my radar, let alone important.
Once again we have a major government initiative to use technology in a half-hearted way, without any compelling business reason behind it. It’s no wonder that government computing costs so much and delivers so little.
Time after time we hear announcements of exciting new technology plans that will make life easier for our rulers to govern us or, at least, less costly for them to administer the country.
And time after time it is plainly obvious that the initiator has not thought through the practical implications of their policy.
Let’s look at Mr Blunkett’s plan for identity cards. First, it is a voluntary system, it won’t be compulsory (yet) to have an ID card and it won’t be compulsory to carry the card, if we do own one.
So, from a purely systems point of view, the national identity database will have huge holes in it. Of course, we don’t have a national identity database anyway – but I suppose that is only a minor difficulty.
Second, who is going to pay for the national technical infrastructure that will be needed to exploit the biometric data embedded in the card?
Perhaps the Home Office is not aware that, despite the e-government programme, most of this country’s administration still depends on myriad paper systems. And it always will.
Most official offices still struggle to have effective manual systems, so heaven knows how they will cope with sophisticated technology to read our eyeballs and fingerprints.
Would anybody like to guess how long, realistically, it will it take us to establish effective means for reading biometric ID cards? I reckon it will probably be another 15 years - if we are lucky.
That’s a long time and a lot of money to spend on a voluntary scheme.
It seems to me that there isn’t really a business case. If one of my staff or business colleagues brought forward such a half-baked scheme I would send them packing fairly quickly and tell them not to come back until they had thought it through properly.
The trouble is, though, that the government will spend millions and millions of our money following this pipe dream. Or, perhaps, they will sub it out to Capita, on the basis of £20 for every voluntary ID card-holder who transgresses some as yet unwritten law?
After all, there must be some compelling reason, as yet undeclared, that will justify the voluntary biometric ID cards. Maybe David Blunkett has a secret plan for pedestrian congestion charging - with biometric readers on every lamp post and dustbin. Who knows?
Or, if they are really that desperate to use whizzy state-of-the-art technology, I suppose they could go the whole hog and implant RFID chips into us all. Then they would know not only who we are, but also where we are and where we have been.
Perhaps that’s the real plan…
What do you think?
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Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at email@example.com
This was first published in November 2003