Government plays safe with ID card roll-out

The government yesterday confirmed that it intends to de-risk its £5.4bn ID card programme by rolling the project out in a gradual incremental way rather than take a big bang approach.

The government yesterday confirmed that it intends to de-risk its £5.4bn ID card programme by rolling the project out in a gradual incremental way rather than take a big bang approach.

In her first speech on ID cards since home secretary John Reid ordered a review of the ID cards programme, Home Office minister Joan Ryan said the project would be developed in a way that is cost effective and makes best use of resources.

She told an industry conference that ID card infrastructure will be built incrementally on existing projects to roll out biometric passports, visas and driving licences.

“The philosophy I have outlined is one which builds on existing and planned business capability and builds new capability in an incremental way – this incremental approach reduces our delivery risk and will keep a downward pressure on costs,” she said, in a speech at the Biometrics 2006 conference.

The first stage, will be to ensure the Identity and Passport Service has the capability to enrol large volumes of people. That will be followed by developing the capability to take finger prints of passport applications, and finally by the development of a National Identity Register.

At the same time, the identity cards programme, which has been presented as a stand-alone project, will be incorporated into wider plans to improve identity management across government departments.

The Treasury has appointed Sir James Crosby, former chief executive of HBOS, to head a group of public and private sector specialists to make recommendations on identity management by Easter next year.

One option may be to use the ID cards national register, which will hold biometric records of the population, as an index to link personal data  held in different government databases.

“Over the coming months we will be explaining the steps we need to take to improve identity management in government. Our identity management strategy will set out the key uses of the ID cards scheme in delivering public services, ” said Ryan.

The minister made it clear that the Home Office planned to take a flexible approach to the design of the National Identity Register.

For example, she said, rather than hold biometric and personal records on a single database, it may be cheaper and less risky to store parts of the register on different systems.

“If there are assets and resources already available across government which could help reduce the technical risks associated with building a person-centric database which in time will hold tens of millions of records, then we should look seriously at how we can re-use them,” she said.

Detailed plans to minimise delivery risks and keep costs under control will emerge in the coming months, said Ryan.

The minister highlighted a number of cases where ID cards could be used by the private sector, as well as government. They include opening a bank account, applying for a mortgage or loan, buying a car, shopping on line, claiming benefits, and notifying organisations of a change of address.

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