Crosby, Smith, Kelly and Brown
Can Ruth Kelly succeed where four Home Secretaries have failed?
In October 2006, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) made their bid:
"In other countries the private sector is already exploiting the use of biometric identification. For example, companies in the US and Japan are already using biometric verification systems in retail and banking, allowing their customers to use their biometric identity as a quick way of paying for goods and services. There is scope to look at ways in which a national identity management system could provide services to other organisations on a commercial basis ... The scope for collaboration between public and private sector to ensure secure identity, simpler and better service for customers and harness the best technology is being explored by the Public/Private Forum chaired by Sir James Crosby which was set up by the Chancellor [Gordon Brown] and will report in April 2007."
The idea was to insert ID cards into the UK's payment systems via the banks and the major retailers. If they were required for most financial transactions, then ID cards would at last have their raison d'ętre.
Nearly a year later than expected, the Crosby Forum has reported, the bid failed and the answer is no. Or, as Sir James puts it, immaculately: "Quite legitimately, the Government may not regard its ID cards scheme as the best way to stimulate the creation of the universal ID assurance system as envisaged in this report".
The banks and the retailers do not want IPS's ID cards, they will not provide cover for the National Identity Scheme (NIS) and the remaining reasons for it are unconvincing. ID cards will allow us to travel in Europe. But we can already do that. They will allow students to get their first jobs. But they can already do that. They will improve security, airside, at airports. But airside workers already go through stringent security checks.
That is all Jacqui Smith (the Home Secretary) has left to offer – an expensive solution to problems that have already been solved. Having already failed with the banks and the retailers, it's going to be a struggle to sell ID cards to anyone else. So, for the new delivery plan, the big guns are being brought out:
"Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly will jointly chair a meeting of industry representatives to ensure the smooth introduction of these new measures."
Ms Kelly's job is impossible.
There is no support from the Identity and Passport Service. They were meant to provide an enhanced identity-checking service for employers by June 2007, they didn't and they still haven't.They were meant to issue invitations to tender for the biometrics needed for ID cards by the same date, they didn't and they still haven't.
And in the meantime, IPS are running short of prospective suppliers – QinetiQ refused to be included and Accenture, BT, BAE Systems and Steria have all pulled out of the running. They consider the NIS to be too risky. Not surprisingly, given that we are heading for a hung parliament and the opposition parties all oppose ID cards.
Not only that, but the public are beginning to grasp the fact that the biometrics that ID cards depend on are just not reliable enough to do the job. As Crosby says: "biometric data is not a substitute for a rich source of biographical information and provides no 'silver bullet' in identity assurance ... biometric technologies do not work precisely 100 per cent of the time". In other words, when the Prime Minister writes, as he did on 17 January 2008, that biometrics "will make it possible to securely link an individual to a unique identity", he is wrong.
The dark cloud hovering over the whole scheme is ... the child benefit discs. "The scheme’s governance should be designed to inspire the highest level of trust among citizens. It should be operated independently of Government", says Crosby. Having lost 25 million people's personal details, it will take years for the government to regain our trust. While IPS can do nothing but wait, someone else will come along and provide the identity assurance services needed.
It may be some combination of the banks and the mobile phone companies, the credit reference agencies and the utility companies. We don't know. But one thing is certain. Quite legitimately, Ruth Kelly will find it hard to convince anyone that the NIS is the best way to stimulate the creation of a universal ID assurance system.
David Moss has spent five years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.