The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is “concerned” about the way the government is planning the proposed implementation of ID cards.
The release of the committee’s report has also coincided with a ruling by the freedom of information commissioner that the Treasury must publish two secret internal efficiency reviews – called Gateway reviews – on the scheme, dating from 2003 and 2004.
The MPs’ report says there are several areas in which the Home Office's treatment of scientific advice and evidence on ID cards “appears to be following good practice”.
This includes the establishment of committees of experts, the use of Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviews, discussions with international experts and the commitment to trialling technology.
However, “several areas of the scheme cause us great concern”, said the report.
“The identity cards programme team appear to have concentrated on biometrics because it is an emerging technology. This focus has seemingly detracted attention from other technological and scientific aspects of the programme.”
It continues: “Whilst several processes for feeding in scientific advice from experts have been established for biometrics, similar processes are lacking in ICT and social science.”
The report says the division between biometrics and other aspects of the programme has been “emphasised by an inconsistent approach to scientific advice and evidence”.
While some aspects of the scheme, such as the types of biometrics to be used, have been determined, other areas, such as the architecture of the IT system, have been left to industry, the report says.
This inconsistency “has caused confusion in the wider community”. Such confusion has been exacerbated by the lack of transparency of the scheme, according to the MPs.
The MPs have recommended that the Home Office employ a systems architect and establish an IT assurance committee to provide advice on IT, particularly the scheme specifications, and to review proposed solutions when that stage is reached.
They have also called on the Home Office to pay more attention to stakeholders in the ID card scheme, including scientists and technological experts.
“It is crucial that the Home Office increases clarity and transparency, not only in the areas identified as problematic but across the programme”, said the report.
Thirdly, the MPs said that, once trials begin, if the evidence gathered indicates the need for changes in the programme, such changes should be made even if the timescale of the project is extended.
The MPs also said the government had not been clear as to how and when the ID card would be used, and it had to release more information about what personal information would be revealed in different scenarios.
They also called on the Home Office to issue a clear timetable for the publication of the technical specifications of the ID card, and the procurement processes and stages of the scheme.
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