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ONS sends all our identities to India

Digitising births, marriages and deaths

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The Office of National Statistics has announced that it is to digitise 250m records of births, marriages and deaths dating back as far as 1837.

The department has signed a three-year contract with Siemens Business Services to create a database of the documents, and says that part of the work will be carried out offshore, to keep costs down.

The project, known as DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events), will require Siemens to scan, digitise and index the records. The ONS currently keeps its records on microfilm, which Siemens will scan here in the UK. The encrypted data will then be sent to another Siemens facility in India where it will be plugged into the database, and returned to the UK.

The plan is to have the database in place by 2008. The Passport Service plans to use the database to double check the identity documents submitted with passport applications, according to online news site Silicon.com. The report also quotes Ovum analyst Phil Codling as saying that this is the first deal in which a government agency has stated publicly that it is offshoring work to cut costs.

But how secure is it to send all the documents with which we can prove our identities offshore to be processed? Do we need to worry about identity theft?

Codling told us: "Simply mentioning records and personal identity in the same sentence as India has sparked a fairly predictable debate in the press. The difference is that this is a large public sector deal, rather than a large private sector company, such as a bank.

"The ONS has been at pains to point out the security precautions it is taking. The workers won't be able to take laptops or mobile phones into the rooms where they are working with the data, for instance. They'll be working at dumb terminals with no internet access," he said.

Codling argues that there is no evidence to suggest India is any less secure than any other country. "This is about perception of risk, rather than actual risk," he concluded.

The ONS says it wants to reduce the time it takes to deal with applications for copies of certificates, and that digitising the documents will make the service more efficient.

Carrie Armitage, Project Director from ONS said in a statement: "It is essential to create new solutions to save time and money and give better service to the public, particularly as there is a growing number of applications for certificates." ®

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