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ID cards: a bad idea, but we'll do it anyway

The Select Committee reports

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The National ID Card programme will be too expensive, has been shrouded in secrecy and lacks sufficient safeguards against abuse. So says a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee, which describes the Home Secretary David Blunkett's secretive approach as "regrettable".

The report criticises the Home Office for its approach. It said that there was a "lack of clarity and definition on key elements of the scheme and its future operation", and that some basic tenets of the proposal had been "poorly thought out".

The MPs call on Blunkett to be more open, recommending that he open the procument process to competitive tendering. He has refused to do so, citing market sensitivities.

Many of the concerns raised in the report mirror those reported in The Register. The MPs said the cards could make identity fraud easier in cases where cards were not inspected in detail. They also expressed concern about function creep, and the degree of access MI5 and MI6 would have to the database.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis told The Independent: "It is extremely disturbing that decisions on ID cards are being taken in secret. ID cards raise complex questions of civil liberties so of all of the policy decisions taken in secret, ID cards shouldn't be one of them."

However, in apparent defiance of its own findings, the report broadly supports the introduction of a national identity register and identity card. The general sentiment is that ID cards are OK, but the government must proceed with caution.

The report acknowledges that the introduction of an ID card would "represent a significant change in the relationship between the state and the individual in this country", but concludes that it should not be rejected on constitutional grounds alone. The MPs concluded that "the Government has made a convincing case for proceeding with the introduction of identity cards".

The report points to the government's poor record on large scale IT projects. It warns that costs could easily spiral out of control, particularly when decisions are taken behind closed doors. It accuses the Home Office of being "too vague" in its assesment of some cost areas, particularly the human elements of the scheme such as enrolement time and applications that need further investigation.

Finally, the MPs recommend that the draft Bill be given primary legislation status. You can read up on that here, but put simply, this means it would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and that passing it into law would need the backing of both houses.

The key thing to note in all this, is that the debate has moved on: we are no longer talking about if we should have a national identity register and identity card, but how the system can be made to work. ®

Bootnote

Blunkett is under no obligation to open the procurement process to public scrutiny, despite the fact that the programme is likely to swallow at least £3bn of taxpayers' money. The Code of Practice on Access to Government Information allows for information to be witheld, if releasing it is not in the public interest.

The list of circumstances in which the public interest is best served by secrecy is here. A cursory scan reveals that it has pretty much everything covered.

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