Publication of ID cards reviews would jeopardise support for the scheme, claims government

Publication of internal reports into the feasibility of the government's ID cards programme would have jeopardised support from government agencies.

Publication of internal reports into the feasibility of the government's ID cards programme would have jeopardised support from government agencies.

The claim was made by Robin Woodland, director of policy at the Identity and Passport Service, in evidence to the Information Tribunal. The tribunal was considering whether two initial Gateway "zero" review reports into the feasibility of the ID cards project should be published.

The co-operation of government departments and agencies is critical to the success of the ID cards scheme.

The government is asking departments to cost the integration of their systems with the biometrics-based National Identity Register, which is being installed on the Customer Information System (CIS) at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Last month, home secretary Jacqui Smith told the House of Commons that a key purpose of the National Identity Register was to help verify the identity of people who use public services.

The Office of Government Commerce, which is part of the Treasury, has refused to publish the two Gateway stage zero reports on the ID cards scheme.

The information commissioner has ordered that the reports be released, as has the Information Tribunal - twice. But the Office of Government Commerce has refused, and has spent about £140,000 appealing against the orders.

Now some of the evidence given by officials to an Information Tribunal hearing into whether the Gateway reviews should be released, has been published.

All the witnesses at the hearing had been called by the Office of Government Commerce to argue that the gateway reviews should remain confidential.

Woodland told the Information Tribunal that he would not have particularly welcomed the disclosure in 2005 of two Gateway review reports on the ID cards scheme.

He said that their disclosure in 2005 would have risked a change of mind on the part of government agencies. Anything that could have been interpreted in the reviews as bad news would have been "grist to the mill" for those who did not wish the ID cards project well, he said.

Another witness at the Information Tribunal, Keith Boxall, who is head of standards and practice at the Identity and Passport Service, said the publication of the Gateway review reports, even today, could influence a change in the overall direction of the ID cards programme.

The original request for the reviews to be published was made on 3 January 2005, two days after the Freedom of Information Act came into force. The Office of Government Commerce has rejected every request made to it under the FOI Act for Gateway reviews to be published - although it claims there is no blanket policy and it considers every request on its merits.

The Information Tribunal ruled last week that the release of the two Gateway zero reviews would "undoubtedly make an important contribution to the debate" over ID cards.

The tribunal revealed there were some adverse criticisms in the Gateway reviews, but it said the criticisms were "mild".

The tribunal gave the Office of Government Commerce 28 days to publish the two Gateway zero reports on the ID cards scheme, despite pleas by Woodland other witnesses from the OGC and the Identity and Passport Service that the documents should remain confidential. The OGC may appeal against the order to the High Court.

Woodland was involved in all aspects of the Identity Cards Act 2006 and the draft bills which went before it. He is now in charge of secondary legislation related to the scheme.

Read more about the ID cards scheme on the IT Projects blog >>

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