The London School of Economics has called for Parliament to intervene in the government’s identity card scheme to find out if it is “getting out of control”.
In its response [27 pages, 593Kb PDF] to the government’s six-monthly report on costs of the ID scheme, which said last week that estimates had risen by nearly £1bn since October 2006, the LSE noted how the reports were supposed to help MPs keep abreast of the scheme, but a lack of information to support the figures made independent assessment of the numbers difficult.
It really is worth reading the whole thing. It brings to light several points that aren’t immediately obvious from Government soundbites and Frequently Asked Questions web-pages – a couple of which I point out below.
Here is the Summary:
The credibility of the Home Office to produce any figures
about the state of the scheme is being undermined by basic problems.
We recommend an independent review of all figures, to ensure that other such mistakes do not appear again.
We recommend that, as a matter of urgency, Parliament is informed of whether the Strategic Action Plan has led to reduced costs or whether the original costs of the scheme were underestimated.
We recommend that, as a matter of urgency, Parliament is informed of costs to other government departments as they are identified and quantified.
For example the £510m to the FCO. How was this identified and quantified?
This seems a reasonable question to me.
We recommend that Parliament be informed of the complexities and challenges in the creation of a contract to redesign the DWP Customer Information System to integrate the National Identity Register.
If iris biometrics have been dropped from the Scheme, we repeat the recommendation made in our first response: Parliament should be informed as to how a phased-in approach to biometrics will affect the ability of the register to achieve stated policy goals. (E.g. if iris scanning is implemented in 2012, then the entire population will only be uniquely iris scanned by 2022, thus delaying the use of iris scanning to register and verify individuals who can not be fingerprinted).
We recommend that Parliament be informed on the cost and effectiveness of running 1-to-many verification checks against biometric databases. Due to high profile attention to the use of the NIR fingerprints to compare fingerprints found at scenes of crime, we recommend that additional research be conducted and reported to Parliament on the likelihood of false matches, i.e. where innocent individuals are identified as possible criminals, and what plans the Home Office have in place to deal with such situations.
The above is prompted, the document explains, because “the Strategic Action Plan notes that: “biometric technology identifies small percentages of what are known as ‘false matches’ or ‘false non–matches’”. In order to deal with this issue, “expert human assessment” is required and it envisages that this “will build on resources which currently exist within government” “
How much will this cost, how will it operate and so on?
As the UK Borders Bill is still under consideration by Parliament, we recommend that Parliament address the costs of the ‘Biometric Immigration Document’ in light of recent changes in costings on the identity card.
We recommend that the Home Office clarifies whether it has taken Cabinet Office guidance into consideration in the development of the Scheme and if it has, what the cost implications are likely to be.
Our main report had warned that public confidence in the Scheme could be one of the major factors affecting its success. We therefore repeat the recommendation from our first response that: “The DWP and OGC should immediately publish the information as required by the Information Commissioner and cease any appeals to prevent its release”.
We presume that the cost of the extra interview locations required for the biometric footprint enrolment process are included in the government’s figures, but given the high profile coverage the Passport application by interview process has already received, the risks of public opposition to this part of the Scheme are likely to be higher than those estimated by the Home Office. We recommend that the Home Office conduct and release new assessments of costs of ‘refuseniks’.
We recommend that the Government’s position on liability issues around the use of the Scheme be clarified. If compensation for potential fraud is to be provided by the government, then the likely costs that would arise need to be disclosed.
Given the latest evidence regarding the challenges in assuring the lifespan of identity documents and technologies, we recommend that the Home Office inform Parliament on the contingencies in place and their likely costs in the event of chip failure.
We recommend that a formal debate be held after each s37 report is issued to allow for the implications of the cost reports to be discussed. We recommend that the consequences of late delivery of future reports be clarified, so that Home Office is kept in line and is no longer able to claim that “four weeks in ten years is not significant”.
According to the Register the IPS has responded with a statement – but I can’t find it on the IPS website.