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'Boil a frog' ID card rollout to continue until 2012

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The latest stage in the long slow death of the UK ID scheme became official this morning, as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith unveiled a two-pronged revised delivery plan, aimed first at selected groups of workers and teenagers. This effectively confirms the strategy proposed by the leaked ID scheme Options Analysis earlier this year, and kicks back the widespread issuing of the cards until 2012.

Options Analysis raised some doubts over the future of fingerprints in the ID scheme, suggesting that it might not be practical to collect these prior to the inclusion of fingerprints in passports, which it assumed would need to happen "at some point in the future." The latest document, available here, commits to adding fingerprints in passports in 2012, but is not specific about whether or not they will be universally employed in ID cards issued prior to this date.

The current interim roadmap has cards down for non-EU foreign nationals "this year" (which as specified by Immigration Minister Liam Byrne some months back translates as November) for "workers in sensitive roles or locations, starting with airport workers" in the second half of 2009, and on a "voluntary basis to young people to assist them in proving their identity" in 2010. There will be a series of workshops with private sector companies and groups this year to determine which lucky groups of victims will follow the airport workers, the purported carrot being: "From 2009, we want people working in specific sensitive roles or locations and their employees to start to benefit from the high level of identity assurance that the Scheme will provide."

The benefit for the employees being that they get to keep their jobs, presumably. More desperately, the Identity & Passport Service wants to "work closely with the private sector to develop practical uses for the card to encourage young people to enrol." Legislative denial of beer to youthful-looking 18 year olds, or banking buggeration, seem to The Register to be possible inducements, although persuading teenagers to cough up the price of a "voluntary" ID card still looks a toughie to us.

The roadmap includes further signals that the passage of ID cards is to be smoothed by making it progressively harder not to have one. It's planned for example to "tailor services for pre employment checks so they can provide a fast track process for those holding identity cards", meaning that it will take longer and be more difficult to get a new job without an ID card. Similarly, faster CRB checks via ID cards will pressure those in sensitive roles into getting one.

And 2012, when the show really goes live for everybody else? 2011 now looks like the last point (before we factor in the delays likely to occur) where it will be possible to get a passport without being fingerprinted and without being automatically added to the National Identity Register. It will still be possible to decline an ID card when you get your new passport, but as you'll be on the database whatever you say, it's the passport that's the key and 2012 is the crunch point.

But even if they win the election that will have taken place by then, there's a certain desperation to the plan that makes one doubt that the wheels will stay on until 2012. For the private sector is wanted, possibly even necessary, as a partner for this phase. The Home Office is "looking to a future where the market would provide biometric enrolment services, giving citizens a choice of competing services which would maximise convenience and drive down price." That is, rather than bearing the entire cost of the enrolment centre infrastructure itself, IPS wants to sub-contract it out. Mysterious "changes" to be made in the enrolment process will also "make our application process easier for our customers" and they "intend for 90 per cent of these applications to be made electronically, more cost effective."

Essentially, this means that IPS itself wants to step away from the fray after it's taken delivery of the first set of fingerprints, and will rely entirely on the security of the ID not having been breached after that, with practically all renewals being made electronically. Is there a market for franchised biometric collection centres? They must be hoping there is. ®

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