June 2009

UK Identity Card RIP?

UK Identity Card RIP?

After months or arguably years of waiting and rumours of conspiracy the Home Office has announced this month that it will delay awarding the key contracts for deveoping the national identity card and for handling its production until 2010. An event that will now come after the next election which at the current time the Tories seem set to win. As is well known the Tories have long voiced their opposition to the scheme and have flatly stated that they will kill the project the moment they get into power. For Thales, Fujitsu and IBM this must be bad news and for Fujitsu in particular who so far have not been awarded a contract after years of effort on the programme.

So far 4 contracts have been concluded;

Thales – Are creating a pilot system

CSC – Are developing biometric passport and ID card applications

IBM – Have a contract to build a biometrics database

De La Rue – Have a contract to produce biometric passports

It was earlier this month that Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling announced that he had written letters to the 5 potential suppliers to the ID card scheme. Mr Grayling‘s letter contained a warning, that should the Conservative party win the next election, they would scrap the ID card scheme.

The former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said that it would cost £40 million for the government to cancel these contracts. A glance at the public information surrounding the above contracts has so far shown that most of the work effort into the biometric passport and the ID card would become irrelevant.

After Gordon Brown’s cabinet reshuffle, the newly appointed home secretary launched an urgent review on the 15th June of the £5.4 billion identity card (ID) scheme, paving the way for a large U&nadsh;turn on one of Labour’s flagship policies. Was this instigated by Chris Grayling’s letter and the likely demands from suppliers for the necessary ‘insurance’, who knows only time will tell. Alan Johnson who has replaced Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary is understood to be “sympathetic” to the critics claiming that identity cards will undermine civil liberties.

Mr Johnson is widely seen as the most credible rival to Gordon Brown and has told officials that he wanted a rethink of the ID card scheme, which was launched by Tony Blair following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and which has since been championed by Brown as a new way of fighting terrorism.

The government says it wants “to give people a sure-fire way of proving they are who they say they are” and argues ID cards will boost national security, tackling identity fraud, prevent illegal working and improve border controls. From what we’ve seen of this fiasco already, it just looks more like an attempt to have every single person in the UK on a national biometrics database, not quite the same thing as an ID card.

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The Home Office plans have changed because according to BBC News, “the Home Office is under pressure to cut costs. Public support for the scheme has also been hit by a series of data loss scandals, although the government claims the majority of the population are still in favour.”

The likely scenarios surrounding the introduction of the ID card depends on who wins the next election. If Labour wins, then the ID card will be put to a vote, with MPs deciding whether to make the ID Cards compulsory for UK Citizens over the age of 16. This will depend on the success of the pilot projects to be implemented by Thales. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said that they would scrap the scheme if they were to win the elections. Most other political parties, such as the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and UKIP, are also against ID Cards. This is in addition to the grassroots campaign against them, through groups such as NO2ID.

Now, the fact that the majority of the parties are against the ID cards suggests that this is a battle that the labour party doesn’t need to fight and given their financial situation dropping it into the bin will keep everybody happy would seem a good idea. It&squo;s probably only the fact that it was in the Labour Party Manifesto that they are taking care to lose it gently.

The scheme, if it is to be implemented will cost the taxpayers, according to the Home Office, £5bn. The London School of Economics, however, have said that this figure is completely underestimated, with the true figure likely to be between £10bn and £20bn. All these figures are to some extent misleading depending on how they are drawn up because a large part of the cost is associated with the biometric passport and associated database.

So, as I am sure all of you are wondering, what exactly is to be included and excluded from the data to be stored by the national database and what information will be on the cards themselves?

The card itself will contain basic information including a photograph of the card holder, along with their name, gender and date of birth. The card is not said to hold an address but a microchip in the card will hold fingerprints that can be compared to those stored on the biometrics database.

The government has sought to put some fears about the ID cards to sleep by saying they will not store details about someone’s race, religion, sexuality, health criminal record or political beliefs. The information that they will be storing, however, includes 49 types of information which the Identity Card Bill says may be on the national register. These 49 items will include:

  • Personal Information – Full name, aliases, date and place of birth, gender, addresses
  • Identifying Information – Passport type photo ( including shoulders), signature, fingerprints
  • Residential Status – Nationality, entitlement to remain in UK, e.g. grants, terms, etc
  • Personal Reference Numbers – Registration, issue, passport and driver numbers, work permits
  • Registration and ID Card History – Dates applied, omission reason, lost, stolen and damaged ID cards
  • Security Information – Personal ID number, password or other codes, questions and answers

Mr Grayling told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he was concerned about “a number of signals” recently suggesting “quite big penalty costs” were being built into contracts, which will leave a “substantial bill” for the taxpayer. “I want companies to be cautious and recognise that if they invest large amounts of money preparing for business, it may not happen,” he said. Grayling continued by adding, “There’s a danger the government will build more poisoned pills into contracts that will simply make it more difficult to scrap.”

Based on this month’s events it seems ever more likely that the ID card will disappear but we should not overlook the national data base that is not likely to stop.

David Everett – Smartcard & Identity News


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