A national identity scheme is more likely to succeed if consumers can use it confidently and easily than if it is driven by governmental goals, said the government's independent reviewer of public and private identity assurance schemes, James Crosby.
The main aim of the scheme should be to let citizens assert who they are easily and confidently, he said.
This is in sharp contrast to earlier government reasons for introducing ID cards. These included national security, crime-fighting, stopping illegal immigration and saving costs through data sharing and stopping benefit fraud.
In a review originally due last Easter, Crosby said government goals are more likely to be achieved if consumers take up and use an ID system on a wide scale.
"Governments can impose universal take-up, but only consumers will bring about the breadth of usage that is so critical to the effectiveness of any national ID infrastructure," Crosby said. "All elements of the scheme should be designed with the customers' interests at the core."
In contrast to present government thinking, Crosby said consumers should "own" the data. Except for national security, it should not be possible for any data - including stored biometric data - to be shared with anyone without the consumer's informed consent. "Verification of identity should be performed without the release of data," he said.
Crosby said the government's ID card scheme was "The best opportunity to establish the foundation of a consumer-driven 'universal' identity assurance system that would bring economic and social advantage to the UK."
But the scheme should be launched on the basis of key principles he laid out:
• The purpose should be restricted to enabling citizens to assert their identity with ease and confidence.
• The amount of data stored should be minimised.
• Citizens should "own" their entry on any register.
• Enrolment should be simple, convenient and cheap for citizens, and focus on high-risk individuals.
• Cards and compromised identities should be easy, cheap and quick to replace and repair.
• Enrolment and ID cards should be provided free.
• The market should be allowed to develop ways to deliver and use the scheme.
The present ID Card Act allows the government to collect, store and share up to 49 items of information, including fingerprint, facial image and iris scan data.
There has also been no indication of how someone might "repair" an identity if it is compromised, one of Crosby's key recommendations.
The Identity & Passport Service is tendering for up to five companies to act as main contractors for the National Identity Scheme. This includes a central register and smart ID card that will carry at least the same information as a biometric passport. The expected cost of the scheme is £5.5bn over 10 years. The first contracts, for the biometric database and enrolment facilities, are expected to be awarded in May. However, it has the option to refuse all bids.