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Tribunal forces opening up of ID card 'gateway' docs

OGC tries in vain to avoid scrutiny

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The Information Tribunal has forced the disclosure of strategic reviews of the identity cards system by the Office of Government Commerce, which opposed the disclosure of the information.

Security consultant Mark Dziecielewski and LibDem MP for Winchester Mark Oaten had made Freedom of Information requests to see details of Gateway Reviews held of the ID system before the plans were announced to Parliament in November 2003.

The OGC refused to disclose them and took this view as an appeal to the Information Tribunal last year after the Information Commissioner decided that the Reviews should be published.

The Tribunal said in a decision notice yesterday: "The public interest in maintaining the exemption does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure".

In other words, the OGC had been given 28 days to publish the Gateway Reviews. Timothy Pitt-Payne, representing the Information Commissioner, had demolished the arguments forwarded by Mr Robin Tam QC, the OGC's representative, one by one, and largely to the applause* of the Tribunal chairman John Angel.

The Reviews set for disclosure had been conducted to determine whether the Identity and Passport Service, which was proposing to implement the ID system, had realistic expectations - whether they had properly considered how much it would cost, how much resources they would need to do it, how long it would take and whether it was at all possible.

Critics of the ID plans were sceptical that the early Gateway conclusions had supported the government's plans to introduce ID cards.

Oaten, who who had opposed the introduction of ID cards in Parliament but is no longer on the LibDem home affairs brief, had suspicions that the IPS had excluded certain costs from the official calculations and so made the project seem more feasible than it actually was.

Dziecielewski, for his part, had an association with the No2ID campaign group and had also campaigned against the use of CCTV.

The Tribunal said that the OGC's arguments against disclosure of the reviews appeared disingenuous.

"We find it difficult to accept that the OGC is really convinced by the arguments put forward by Mr Tam on their behalf," it said. Neither had the OGC been convinced by the arguments themselves, which stressed for the most part how public scrutiny would diminish the efforts of the people developing the computer system.

Instead, it applauded Pitt-Payne's criticism of the OGC's position and put its weight behind similar conclusions presented after inquiries by the National Audit Office.

Even major IT suppliers did not have a problem with Gateway Reviews being published, an earlier report had noted. Yet this was one of those bizarre situations where the suppliers were happy for disclosure and the government was insisting on secrecy on a commercial-in-confidence for the sake of the supplier.®

* 37-page pdf -- see paragraphs 64 to 75

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