So the Home Office has decided to scale back its controversial plans for National ID Card Programme. Instead of a single, clean database generated from scratch, it will now build on three existing databases. This might be cheaper and present a much lower risk, but it represents a major step back for Identity Management across Government.
The critics and pundits will no doubt be pleased with themselves. They said it was too expensive, too risky and a threat to civil liberties. But most of the media debate missed the point. From an Identity Management perspective, a single, clean, meta authentication directory makes sense, provided the business case stands up. And there are Gateway reviews to examine this.
I must admit to some involvement with this Programme, having chaired the Private Sector User Group that helped to identify the business benefits for the ID Card. The business representatives involved were positive, though few would have been allowed by their PR departments to voice their support in public. I’ve also had the opportunity to discuss some of the societal issues with members of the public through the Royal Society Science in Society Programme. They were in favour provided the costs were not excessive.
Implementing an identity management programme in any organisation is a hard task. You know instinctively it’s the right move strategically. And you can identify dozens, perhaps hundreds, of solid business benefits. But up-front infrastructure investments that deliver longer-term savings shared across an organisation are never popular with business managers and investment appraisal functions.
In the case of ID Cards, the facts are also clouded by political spin, both for and against. And it’s an easy target for critics, who can simply play the FUD factor. Just point out that big Government IT projects never work, that the costs always overrun and that it will create a Big Brother State. Game over.