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Industry and academia line up to bash ID cards

MPs hear 2009 roll-out unlikely

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The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee has heard a 2009 roll-out for ID cards is unlikely.

The comments came from London School of Economics (LSE) panelist Dr Edgar Whitley, one of the group behind the highly contentious report that put the upper limit on the scheme's cost at £19bn. Whitley's doubts on the 2009 target were echoed by National Physical Laboratory biometrics chief Dr Tony Mansfield and UCL professor Angela Sasse.

Whitley added he could still see no possibility that the Home Office's figure of £584m annually is feasible.

The four-strong panel of industry reps, who were quizzed by the Committee prior to the academics, was that much work still needs to be done on the specifications for the IT backbone of the scheme. The lack of consideration of online uses was a big oversight so far, they said.

Technology consultant and sometime Guardian contributor Dave Birch forwarded the view: "It may be that this system will fail completely and have to be reintroduced in 10 years." Oddly, he later said he thought this risk was "tolerable".

Industry reps and academics agreed that comparisons with existing ID schemes in other countries were of limited value. Microsoft's Jerry Fishenden said tangible reductions in identity fraud have not been measured. The societal impacts of government interventions vary hugely, said Sasse later.

The professor pointed out that, by their nature, studies of existing schemes have no controls; failures of the system cannot be properly assessed because they go undetected.

She added the Home Office's rubbishing of the LSE report was "astonishing".

The cross-party evidence session forms part of an inquiry into scientific advice to government. The consensus seemed to be the debate on ID cards has been "open but ill-informed". ®

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