The Identity Commissioner speaks - and drops the Home Office in it

Newly-appointed Identity Commissioner Sir Joseph Pilling has addressed the Home Affairs Committee in his first public appearance since taking up the post. What he had to say was interesting, and I doubt that the Identity & Passport Service are particularly happy about it all. In answering questions from the Committee, Sir Joseph announced:

  • that the National Identity Register contains 538 records (of which one is a foreign national);
  • that he is paid £44,000 for six months in his role, with a staff of four and an annual budget of £560,000;
  • and most significantly, that he did not apply for the post (which he expects to hold for 18 months) but was telephoned at home and offered it without interview.

So we have an Identity Commissioner who is known to be a career civil servant with a long track record of loyalty to the Home Office, and who reports directly to the Home Secretary rather than Parliament. It’s been widely noted that an arrangement such as that leaves us with little hope of independence in his office; now he tells us himself that the job was a fix, and that he was not appointed through the normal – and in my opinion proper – channels.

The Conservatives have stated their intention to abandon the National Identity Scheme, and in light of this information there seems to be a compelling case that they should also disband the office of the Identity Commissioner. If the government were serious about restoring public confidence in this and other major ICT schemes, then emasculating the powers of the Commissioner’s Office and filling the role with a pre-selected candidate is no way to do it.

[Note: Any criticism here is of the role and how it was filled, not of Sir Joseph himself, whom I have not met]