Passport IT troubles bode ill for ID cards

Agency handling ID cards struggles with web passport system

The Identity and Passport Service – the agency due to introduce national ID cards - has postponed indefinitely a much simpler IT project to allow people to apply and pay online for passports, despite making a “significant investment” in the system.

Last week the prime minister Tony Blair renewed his support for ID cards and responded to those who question whether the IT will work by praising the technology that supports the issuing of passports.

But Computer Weekly has learned that the Identity and Passport Service is running more than a year behind schedule on an online passport system that is far simpler than the ID cards scheme and costs less than one hundredth of its price.

The EPA2 electronic passport applications system was due to have been introduced in late 2004 or 2005, according to a memorandum submitted to the House of Commons by the Passport Service on 7 January 2004.

Last week a spokesman said the system was not due to go into operation until next summer – and it could be later.

The system was introduced in May 2006 but was brought down shortly afterwards when its performance so deteriorated that some applicants were in danger of having to cancel their holidays.

Rob Dustan, a former computer manager, wrote to Computer Weekly after using EPA2. He was considering cancelling a holiday because he had still not received a passport six weeks after submitting his electronic application.

Last week a spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service gave no date for the system’s reintroduction, nor was he able to give any assurance that it would be running by next summer.

“We do need to understand why EPA2’s performance deteriorated,” he said, adding that the Identity and Passport Service would be publishing a report on the lessons learned.

EPA2 is a web-based system that uses Microsoft’s .net technology. It is understood to cost less than £45m – one hundredth of the £4.5bn projected cost of the ID cards scheme.

In the absence of EPA2, the Identity and Passport Service is relying instead on its predecessor EPA1, which has no facility for paying online and is slower to process applications than a correctly functioning EPA2.

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