'Secret' reports raised concerns about feasibility of ID cards

Secret government reports into the feasibility of the ID cards programme published today, raised far reaching concerns about the costs, complexity, security and technology of the project.

Secret government reports into the feasibility of the ID cards programme published today, raised far reaching concerns about the costs, complexity, security and technology of the project.

The project received a "red" light from government reviewers in June 2003. Seven months later the traffic light status changed to amber.

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) released the reviews today, under the Freedom of Information Act, after it led a four-year battle to keep them secret.

The first review warned that the government had failed to identify explicitly the programme's most important risks. It warned that "the sheer scale of the programme could lead to difficulties".

The cost of the scheme may not be justified by the benefits, and government departments were "not quite as enthusiastic about the programme" as was hoped. The scheme could do "less good than hoped, with perceived benefits seemingly not on a scale to justify the costs and some erosion of public support for the scheme," it said.

The reviewers warned there was "no means of resolving issues and project creep", and they raised questions about whether there would be enough people with the right skills to man the project.

There is "no evidence that the skills and capabilities for the programme are readily available, nor have arrangements been made so far to secure them", the report said.

Inadequate card security could lead to stealing and counterfeiting. The police told reviewers that failing to make ID cards compulsory would "substantially remove the administrative savings and some of the other advantages that ID cards would offer".

This is the first time the OGC has released any gateway reviews, which are independent assessments of risky projects and programmes at various stages in their lifecycle.

The thoroughness of the two released reports is likely to lend authority and credibility to gateway reviews in general. Many of the concerns raised by the gateway reviewers in the reports have since been addressed by the Identity and Passport Service.

But some of the concerns of the reviewers remain relevant today, such as the risks posed by breaches in security, and the uncertainties over the costs and complexities of the programme for government departments participating in the scheme.

There were also uncertainties about the reliability of the biometric technologies for ID cards. Computer Weekly has learned that even today, more than four years after the reviews, the Identity and Passport Service is still aware of uncertainties over biometrics technologies to be used in ID cards.

The first of the two released Gateway reviews gave the scheme a "red" light. It said that the review team "did not consider that the studies of costs and risks that have been completed are sufficiently robust to support any firm conclusions as to the outturn costs or delivery timetable".

This reviews were carried out before the draft Identity Cards Bill was published.

The first concluded, "We have little doubt that the [ID Cards] programme is do-able. The more difficult issues are how to achieve certainty of success on a predicted timescale and value for money, while minimising risks".

The second review, carried out in January 2004, gave the scheme an "amber" light, which it said "reflects our concerns with the potential for problems in the future"

It is unclear whether the concerns of reviewers have since been assuaged because none of the gateway reports written since January 2004 has been published.

For a summary of ID cards gateway reviews, see the IT Projects blog

For the key findings of the 'secret' ID cards Gateway reviews FOI release, see Tony Collins' blog.

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