What is driving the evolution of ID policy?

David Moss (No2ID) has just done an interesting posting to my entry on the Return of the Jedi. His assumption appears to be that because national ID cards are dead there is little or no value in using the expertise of IPS to help sort the mess that is Central Government ID policy. Just because a few rotting trees have been felled does not mean that there is light in the jungle. There is whole mass of dead wood still to be cleared as well as a carpet of weeds vying for the oxygen of publicity.  

Meanwhile we can assume that Local Government will seek to move towards residents’ databases and smart cards, as are common across most of the developed world, as a means of taking out cost at the same time as.improving services for long stay residents and deterring non-taxpaying incomers. If they do so by contracting with the private sector to piggyback on existing systems they may be able to do so on positive cash flow. 

My reply to David was that all programmes without a direct business benefit are likely to get the chop. That should to include most of Whitehall’s competing ID systems and databases – with the survivors, hopefully the best, being “encouraged” to inter-operate, including to co-operate on cleansing to reduce fraud.

Hence the focus of the Information Society Alliance on Information and Identity Governance – particularly the governance of sharing across boundaries: international (because of all that data held in Seattle, Mountain View and on the “Darknet”) as well as inter-departmental.

Who will drive the process of rationalisations and inter-operation?

Short term – the driver is the need for central and local government to make rapid progress in using shared services to cut out the 70% or more of duplicated effort in this space. It is unclear whether Central or Local government will make the running. I suspect the latter unless those running the silos of state are more interested in moving rapidly to overcome inter-departmental silo suspicion and rivalry that in getting good reitrment packages.

Long term – the most credible driver is the need for the main financial services players to preserve global payment systems. That means they are the only ones with long-term needs, budgets and  expertise.

I assume the attempts by the military (US as well as UK), to take control of the cybersecurity agenda will fail because the banks have bought those who know what they are doing and the techies, seeking to promote spend on new and wizzier solutions, will ultimately follow the follow.

What might change that process? A horrendous terrorist incident or three. There is still time to do the “right thing” to make the austerity Olympics of 2012 as secure and enjoyable as thsoe of 1948, with a return to “the Olympic Spirit” – but the clock is ticking.


Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

Steady on there! Can we just check whether Mr. Moss is actually a representative of NO2ID? No question that he is a supporter, but an official rep?

Philip, I'm a day late spotting this post of yours.

1. I am not a member of No2ID.

2. IPS have yet to demonstrate any expertise in identity management.

3. There is no reason to believe that smart cards will squeeze costs out of the delivery of public services by local government.

4. There is no reason to believe that smart cards will reduce the level of benefits fraud.

5. In Hungary, they speak Hungarian. That is not a reason for us to do the same in the UK. By the same token, other municipalities using smart cards is not a reason for UK municipalities to emulate them.

6. When you talk about "inter-operating" and "co-operating", I think you intend data-sharing. There are benefits in data-sharing and, if there is to be any data to share, in data collection. What data? How much of it? Collected by whom? Shared with whom? Under what circumstances is it warranted to share? I know the questions. I don't know the answers.

7. Microsoft, Google, Facebook and the spooks have huge quantities of data at their disposal, as you say. Don't let's forget data-sharing with the European Commission and Washington.

8. "Duplicated effort" isn't necessarily wasted effort. You assume that. You may be wrong. Remember that lovely old spoof (that I can't find, can you?), the management consultant's report on Beethoven's Ninth. Why repeat the theme over five movements, one is enough, why have the woodwinds repeat what the strings have already said, the whole symphony could be over more quickly and a lot more cheaply if you just cut out the unnecessary repetition ... Yes, but then it wouldn't be Beethoven's Ninth. The proper functioning of the civil service, central and local, is just as complicated as a symphony. Cut out the unnecessary repetition/duplication and you may find you're left with ugly discord. At the very least, please question the spotty juvenile consultant's callow claim that duplication is waste. Meantime, keep those silos. It may be that they serve a valuable purpose. That's the structure that's evolved, that's enabled us to survive. Let its change be evolutionary. Revolution is violent and unpredictable and innocent people get hurt.

9. The transformational government programme is a Christmas list drawn up by the IT children of Whitehall. I don't suppose they could believe their luck when it turned out that the government thought it was Father Christmas and agreed to the programme. It rests on one premise – that frontline public servants don't know what they're doing and need to be replaced by computer systems. That assumption is false. We know that. You can let IPS spend £297 million and still have nothing to show for it. Absolutely nothing. Mr Abdulmutallab Snr can report his son to the local branch of the CIA and yet the young man still successfully flies to the US with his dynamite underpants. The only thing that protects us is experienced individuals, whether or not public servants, exercising their judgement. Like the passer-by who spotted the bombs in the car parked on Haymarket just after the accession of Gordon Brown.

10. Yes, the banks have the incentive and the expertise. Can you imagine what an irrelevant joke IPS looked like to the banks? Don't forget the insurance companies. They have huge quantities of data about us and yet they're never mentioned. And don't forget the mobile phone companies. They have a globally inter-operable network already up and running and we all voluntarily pay for our mobile phone handsets (= ID cards) and voluntarily take them with us wherever we go and, whether we know it or not, that means we can always be located wherever we are in the world, and the mobile phone companies know (or can discover) who we call and who calls us ... Seven years I've been trying to get this point across to the government. And for seven years they've carried on talking nonsense about smart cards.

11. The connection between transformational government and "horrendous terrorist incidents" is not obvious and you agreed yesterday, Philip, that it may actually be irrational. People must clear their heads. Squeeze out costs? Smart cards. Reduce fraud? Smart cards? Terrorist incidents? Smart cards. No. Either we're interested in squeezing out costs, reducing fraud and countering terrorism or we're interested in selling smart cards, they're in two separate buckets and to confuse them is to make a category mistake crass enough to fail GCSE science.

As one ex-Managing Partner of Accenture leaves (James Hall, previously Chief Executive of the non-performing Identity & Passport Service), another one arrives, Mr Watmore. The UK Border Agency continues to issue ID cards, which rely on the joke technology of today's mass consumer biometrics. CSC still have their contract to create the biographical National Identity Register, IBM still have their contract to create the biometric National Identity Register, Sagem Sécurité still have their contract to provide joke biometrics to IBM and for all I know – because you still haven't answered my question – the Home Office continue to host a Byzantine structure of committees where a lot of important people get together to discuss identity management apparently to no effect whatever.

The coalition government has a way to go before the expensive nonsense of the last administration's transformational government programme is cleared out and the evolution of ID policy is driven by someone sensible. Preferably me.

Just to clarify David Moss is not a member of NO2ID, nor do his views represent the organisations.

Philip asks the good question: what is driving the evolution of ID policy?

There has been no evolution of ID policy. It is one of nature's failures, it has died out. Unfit, it has not survived the Identity and Documents Bill. The civil service will have to think again.

But they don't want to. Because, as Philip himself tells us, what is driving policy is the desire in the civil service to have another go at transformational government.

Transformational government has failed once. But here is Ian Watmore again, determined to fail a second time.

Mr Watmore is only the Chief Operating Officer of the Efficiency and Reform Group. His boss is Lord Browne, former Chairman of BP.

Benedict Brogan had an article in the Telegraph the other day, 'Civil servants are feeling the love, but preparing to face the pain', talking about improving the efficiency of public services and including this:

Mr Cameron wants government to do less for less. For that, he needs the Civil Service to do more for less.

Bear that in mind for a moment, while we turn our attention to the Spectator of 26 June 2010 and an article by Tom Bower about Lord Browne, 'The real villain of BP':

Cutting costs became BP’s obsession. The philosophy was ‘More for less’

According to Bower:

At Tony Hayward’s inquisition in Washington last week, the hapless BP chief executive resisted the temptation to condemn his predecessor, Lord Browne of Madingley, by name. Instead, pressed repeatedly to explain why BP had breached safety regulations on over 700 occasions, Hayward described 2006 as the corporation’s worst year. That was John Browne’s last full year as chief executive. He left the job humiliated, having been exposed for signing an untruthful court statement. Ever since, Browne has defended that dishonesty as a unique aberration. But as the American investigation of the Gulf catastrophe develops, the blame for the poisonous legacy inherited by Hayward will increasingly be heaped on Browne. The credibility of the British government’s proposed ‘cuts czar’ will be shredded.

So the Efficiency and Reform Group is headed by not one but two failures. Lord Browne's failure includes death and destruction and can be seen pumping into the Gulf of Mexico every day.

The campaign against this second attempt to introduce the infantile transformational government programme looks easier second time around. Let us hope that the coalition government get the message quickly. They have been suckered by parties unknown into a cul-de-sac. They need to back out quickly.

Philip VIrgo Comment: I fear you are stuck in a time warp. Look back to 1979 and the last attempt to bring about fundamental change. Look at Frances Maude's CV, track record and compare the pre-election planning to that before 1979. Now remember that this is a coalition: U-turns on political promises because Sir Humphrey regards them as "courageous" will be very much harder. It is unlikely that the Mandarins will even try to mount a rearguard action akin to that against the reforms planned by Sir Keith Joseph and Sir John Hoskyns.

When I talk about using ICT to support the "transformation of government" as opposed to "transformational government" I mean what I say. Whitehall may seek to resist the transfer of power to town hall but unlike 1979, let alone in 1997, many more of the new intake of MPs have backgrounds in local government than as Westminster policy wonks or as lobbyists. The 20th Century centralised nation state has passed its sell by date. So too have traditional debates on ID policy. The drivers have changed and debate needs to reflect that change.

Philip, thank you for reminding me about the great Sir John Hoskyns. I agree with you. Transformational government has not failed just once, it has failed several times over the past 30 years and it's about time the lessons were learned.

With the return of Ian Watmore, the fear is that the lessons have not been learned, the civil service wants to try again. That is a mistake. The new coalition government, with its synthesised mandate, needs to stop Sir Humphrey from trying again.

As you say, the days of the centralised nation state are over. C.f. Messrs Carswell and Hannan. C.f. the great Simon Jenkins, passim. That's the pre-election planning I believe in. That's how government needs to be transformed. Localisation.

As for ID policy, Whitehall doesn't have one any more. The terms of the debate have changed. I agree. And I'm trying to further the debate.

Local authorities will need an ID policy. There is a flabby belief abroad that all we need to do is emulate other countries and issue local ID cards. Forget it. It doesn't bear the slightest scrutiny.

Go back in the time warp far enough and you get to a state where local authorities deliver services to people because they know them. It's that local.

Localise, and then Whitehall can concentrate on its proper, centralised functions.