ID cards could replace NI numbers

The introduction of ID cards could trigger deep-rooted changes in the IT systems of central government.

The introduction of ID cards could trigger deep-rooted changes in the IT systems of central government.

This is because ID cards are likely to have a unique number, which could be used to replace the national insurance number as the main means by which civil and public servants call up computer records about benefit claimants, taxpayers and other citizens.

Such a change would be pervasive and costly because national insurance numbers have been used to identify citizens to government employees since early in the 20th century.

Ian Watmore, the government's chief information officer, said the question of whether to replace the national insurance number with the ID card number or keep them separate is being discussed by the CIO Council. Formed by Watmore, the council comprises IT leaders from central government, local authorities, the NHS, police and the wider public sector.

"We recognise that the national insurance number as a key was invented in the early 20th century and was not invented with computers and online systems in mind. But it is a huge issue for government CIOs in terms of changing all their systems to access on a different key.

"We have started the debate on this and it is complicated. We have discussed some of the areas of government which will retain their own unique identifier. We have agreed in principle that health will remain a separate domain and keep its own NHS number.

"We are talking to the financial people, which is, in the first instance, Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs, about the future of the national insurance number-keyed systems."

He said CIOs are looking at choices that include keeping national insurance and ID numbers separate, ultimately making them the same or "keeping them separate but joined for certain purposes".

Watmore said that a series of meetings with the information commissioner to seek his views on the subject are under way.

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