Friday, August 04, 2006

STC Reports on ID Cards

The House of Commons Science and Technology committee (STC) has released its report.

The report is of course focused on the science and technology aspects of the scheme. The STC starts from the premise that there is nothing inherently wrong with the introduction of the national ID card/register in itself. As a result, the following points made in the conclusions are a balanced view of the Government's management of the technological and scientific challenges only. So even where the report endorses the Government's management of the project, we at NO2ID and affiliated groups still oppose the project per se:

The conclusion starts by acknowledging that there are some things the Government is getting right, such as the use of limited trials and the plans for gradual roll out.

The conclusion then criticises the Government for it's lack of openness to advice from ICT and Social Science experts. The report states that "despite correspondence with the Home Office, [the STC is] still unclear about who actually has ... responsibility [for ICT] within the programme."

There is criticism of the confusion over the requirements that suppliers will be asked to address in the event of the procurement process taking place. The report points out that "[s]uch confusion has been exacerbated by the lack of transparency of the scheme. In addition, there is a lack of clarity regarding the overall scope of the scheme, the scenarios when the card might be used, the procurement process and the OGC [Office of Government Commerce] Gateway reviews."

The report makes the following suggestions for the improvement of the handling of the project:

"It is crucial that the Home Office increases clarity and transparency, not only in the areas identified as problematic but across the programme. Thirdly, we reiterate that once trials commence, if the evidence gathered indicates the need for changes in the programme, such changes should be made even if the timescale of the project is extended in consequence.

To be clear - there are five scenarios, best to worst case, that I can envisage:

  1. The ID Card scheme is dropped for civil rights reasons, with minimal further cost

  2. The scheme is dropped for practical reasons, with minimal further cost

  3. The scheme is dropped part way through implementation because the Government again fails in its project management duties, at huge further cost

  4. The scheme is implemented, with few problems, at great cost

  5. The scheme is implemented, with extensive problems, at even greater cost

My personal position: I'm not hoping that the scheme collapses in chaos - I'm hoping that the scheme is calmly and sensibly dropped. I confess I'd rather the scheme collapsed in chaos than was implemented well, by quite some margin. However, I know there are those who see a painful downfall as the first and best option, and others that would accept a well organised scheme over a chaotic withdrawal. I expect that particular debate to run and run.

It remains the case that the best scenario for all of us is for there not to be compulsory ID cards and for there never to be a national database, no matter how well they may be implemented.

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