Government is dodging ID card issues, says LSE

ID card debate failed to address management and IT issues, say LSE experts

The government has resorted to personal attacks rather than address the concerns over the cost and technical feasibility of ID cards and the difficulties of managing such a large project, according to academics from the London School of Economics.

The LSE has published a damning report criticising plans for an ID card system that ministers estimate will cost 5.8bn.

The LSE proposed an alternative model for the ID card project based on federated identities, which it said would cost between 1bn and 3bn less than the Home Office proposal, which is based on a central population register.

"The government has never responded to the technology questions. It has never responded to our alternative model for ID cards. I was really hoping some debate could have been sparked," said Simon Davies, visiting professor at the LSE.

During a six-hour debate in the Commons, home secretary Charles Clarke devoted little time to the technology necessary for the scheme to work.

"Our approach to technology is straightforward. When the bill has passed through Parliament, we intend to conduct trials of the technology, including small-scale tests and large-scale testing during roll-out," he said.

As examples of successful large government IT projects, Clarke quoted an IT project at the Department of Work and Pensions which aims to save more than 1bn over the next five years, the success of chip and Pin, and research showing high customer satisfaction with the Passport Agency.

"It was a very cute way of saying 'these three projects work' when they have spent billions on projects that don't work," said Gus Hosein, one of the authors of the LSE report. "One of the projects was not even a government project - it was chip and Pin."

Information commissioner Richard Thomas backed the LSE's proposals for an alternative decentralised ID card system.

"The measures in the ID Cards Bill go well beyond establishing a secure, reliable and trustworthy ID card," he said. "Recent research has provided an alternative model avoiding the intrusive government-controlled register of personal data altogether."

Clarke dismissed Thomas' conclusions as "wrong".

Analyst firm Ovum said the government had changed its position on the main objectives of the programme, making the design and implementation of a successful programme more difficult.

"An ID card that was designed principally to give power to citizens to control and secure their identity in a digital world, rather than for the government to monitor and validate that identity, might not only be more popular but more useful," said Eric Woods, public sector practice director at Ovum.

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