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UK.gov needs fresh law to protect taxpayers' ID

Offloading data to private biz already racks up £10m bill

Exclusive The Cabinet Office's grand plan to farm out the handling of taxpayers' online identities to the private sector will almost certainly be subjected to primary legislation, The Register can reveal.

Earlier this week, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude earmarked £10m for his department's ID assurance project.

That cash is expected to be spent between now and 2013, during the course of the current Coalition administration.

But safeguarding ID will need a new law to regulate its use.

"The current legal opinion is that legislation will be required in due course for the full instantiation of the identity assurance model and for purposes of clarity and transparency on how identity data may be used and disclosed," a Cabinet Office spokesman confirmed to El Reg.

"However, at this stage we do not believe legislation is required in the short term for initial instantiations of the model."

That means it is likely that the £10m allocated earlier this week for the project will have been spent before any act of Parliament is passed on ID assurance.

Arguably, that's a big slab of cash for a government IT scheme that could yet face fierce opposition from civil liberty campaigners and politicos.

As we previously reported, the Cabinet Office's ID assurance plans have been considered by some to be a creative way of building an identity database via third parties, thereby offloading the burden wholesale onto the private sector.

Meanwhile, the CO has yet to confirm which businesses it is talking to about the technology needed to power the ID scheme, which forms part of the government's "digital-by-default" agenda.

"The Identity Assurance team are aiming to release the details of companies that have been involved in the project soon, however it is not just banks who have been involved in this project so far," said the Cabinet Office spokesman, brushing aside our question about whether social networks such as Facebook would play any role in the plan.

Maude's department had hoped to fully implement the new ID scheme to help taxpayers access services online via a revamped website by August next year. With primary legislation looming, it is unlikely that the Cabinet Office will meet that deadline.

Privacy groups will undoubtedly be probing the Cabinet Office's plans to create, in Maude's words, "an environment in government where technology leaders in the identity space can flourish."

But there is one thing the Cabinet Office can be sure of: "there will be no ID database" held – at least, not within the walls of Whitehall. ®

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