Analysing the State of Play for ID Cards

Now that the dust has settled on the publication of the IPS 2008 Delivery Plan and Sir James Crosby’s report, what are the implications for the National Identity Scheme?

The release of the Crosby Report from HM Treasury, and the NIS Delivery Plan 2008 from the Home Office, marks a significant milestone for the National Identity Scheme. Much of the mainstream media missed the Crosby publication because of the timing (a few hours after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s speech), but the implications of his report are important.

The IPS Delivery Plan 2008 updates the 2006 Strategic Action Plan and addresses some of the points raised in Crosby’s report. Possibly the most significant feature is acknowledgement of the revised rollout plan, which will provide cards to foreign nationals in 2008; UK and foreign nationals in sensitive roles (eg air-side workers, power stations) in 2009; voluntary cards to young people in 2010; and a broader roll-out commencing in 2011/2012.

The Delivery Plan also defines a number of participation choices, and confirms the expectation that the issued document may be an ID card, passport or both. It seems likely that this will also be extended to driving licenses in due course. ID card authentication will most commonly be using Chip and PIN technologies, although fingerprints may be used for stronger proof, for example at borders. The Delivery Plan asserts an overall reduction in delivery cost (in her speech, the Home Secretary referred to a forthcoming £1bn reduction to £4.4bn), and refers to a forthcoming Fees Strategy that will confirm the £30 cost per card for 2009-2010.

Sir James Crosby’s report uses unusually robust language to define ten principles for a public-private identity scheme. Despite stating up front that this is not a review of the NIS, it seems unlikely that he can be referring to any other current or future Scheme. His recommendations include restricting the objective of the scheme to citizen-centric identity assertion; operating the Scheme independently of government (with a direct report to Parliament); minimising data storage (and in particular not storing biometric images); preventing data sharing for any reason other than national security; providing restitution services to support citizens in the event of identity-related problems; and encouraging the private sector to deliver as much of the Scheme as possible, including the initial enrolment of citizens.

There are many areas in which IPS and HM Treasury appear to disagree on the delivery approach. IPS asserts the government’s role in controlling the scheme, where Crosby believes it should be independent and market-owned; Crosby demands that the scheme must not store biometric images, where IPS states this is still policy; IPS foresees broader use of data sharing than just for national security as Crosby suggests; Crosby calls for restitution and repair services, where IPS restates its policy that the NIS will itself resolve the problems of identity-related fraud. The two documents, and the Home Secretary’s speech, do not resolve these apparent disagreements.

A number of commentators have said that IPS’ new plan represents a U-turn or setback for the ID Cards scheme. This certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, since it gives them greater flexibility over both the delivery dates and the issued documents. Whether or not individual citizens receive ID cards, passports or other documents such as a driving license is largely irrelevant from IPS’ perspective, since what matters for the delivery strategy is enrolment in the National Identity Register – the issued document is much more a citizen benefit than a government benefit.

In conclusion, the apparent disagreement between IPS and HM Treasury is an undesirable state of affairs for everyone concerned. Ultimately it is up to the Home Office and HM Treasury to reach an agreement over the way forward for the NIS, but one very much hopes that this will be in the form of an amicable partnership rather than ‘agreeing to disagree.’ The Home Secretary referred to ‘fundamental disagreement’ in her speech. Over the coming weeks we will see the publication of the secondary legislation, which will provide the mandate to move the programme forward, and is likely to be the focus of intense scrutiny in Parliament. It is also likely that HM Treasury will release some or all of the supporting documentation generated by the Crosby review, which may make for interesting reading. What’s for sure is that we haven’t heard the last of Sir James Crosby’s report yet.