Smaller project, same price for ID card plan

The decision by the government to radically simplify the technology behind biometric ID cards will not reduce the cost of the £5.4bn programme, a senior official has disclosed.

The decision by the government to radically simplify the technology behind biometric ID cards will not reduce the cost of the £5.4bn programme, a senior official has disclosed.

The government has postponed plans to build a dedicated computer system to hold biographical details of the population and has dropped plans to record iris scans of the population, it emerged last month.

But James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, said in an interview with Computer Weekly that although the project would now be technically much simpler, the costs were unlikely to come down.

“Although this is a technology-driven programme, the technology is a fairly small part of the total costs. A large part of the costs are around card production, the network of offices to enrol people, the set-up costs and operational costs over 10 years. This is not going to make a dramatic impact on the total costs,” he said.

The news drew criticism from Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Nick Clegg.

“Whichever way the government attempts to reorganise this vast project, it is clear the expense to every member of the public will remain astronomically high. It is time for the government to face up to the massive problems in this project and scrap it altogether,” he said.

The Home Office’s original plan was for a dedicated population database, storing fingerprints, iris scans and biometric photographs; and mass roll-out of biometric ID cards to the population by 2008.

But Hall said the original proposals “represented a higher level of risk” which it made little sense to pursue after the Home Office had identified simpler alternatives.

Under the revised plans, published in a low-key report just before the parliamentary recess, ID cards will not be rolled out to the bulk of the UK population until 2010 – two years later than originally announced – although the government plans to issue biometric documents to foreign nationals in 2008.

Plans for biometric iris scans of the population have also been dropped, and it is likely that the ID cards will store only two fingerprints of the card holder, rather than the 10 originally discussed by ministers. The full set will still be held on a central database.

The Home Office plans to use existing government computer systems rather than build a dedicated system to store biographical and biometric details of the population.

“I think we have a very sensible, pragmatic solution, which can continue to deliver the levels of security, confidentiality, privacy and information compliance with the Data Protection Act,” said Hall.

How ID cards will promote data sharing

  • The revised ID cards scheme is central to government plans to share data across government departments
  • The Identity and Passport Service is planning a series of joint ventures with government departments to share identity card data
  • ID card data will first be shared with the Criminal Records Bureau, the Immigration Department and local governments to create new services, such as employment vetting
  • The government published a Serious Crime Bill last week that lays the groundwork for large-scale data matching across departments
  • The plans follow a cabinet decision to drop the data protection principle that data collected for one purpose cannot be used for another.

Related article: U-turn cuts ID risks

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