by David Moss

April 2008

Government ... where a decision based on the logical use of evidence would die of loneliness


The government make some funny decisions.

Take, for example, the Guardian revelation the other day that from this summer some "airline passengers are to be screened with facial recognition technology rather than checks by passport officers, in an attempt to improve security and ease congestion".

Why's that funny? Because, as long ago as February 2003, the National Physical Laboratory told the government that “face recognition on its own is a long way from achieving the accuracy required for identifying one person in 50 million”, “even under relatively good conditions, face recognition fails to approach the required performance”, and “facial recognition is not a feasible option”.

The decision of the UK Border Agency to conduct this trial flies in the face of the evidence.

Another example. The Identity and Passport Service (IPS), the people in charge of ePassports, ID cards and biometric visas, have just issued a consultation document, 'Consultation on the Delivery of the National Identity Scheme'.

What's funny about that?

Look at the questions. Such as: "views are invited particularly from young people on what services the Scheme could provide to them that would make it particularly attractive for them to enrol for an identity card". IPS and its predecessors have had six years to think about the National Identity Scheme. Why don't they know the answer? IPS have told the public very little about how the scheme will work. Young people and everyone else can only express their views if they can first guess correctly what the National Identity Scheme is.

This consultation is back to front. IPS are asking the public why IPS are working on the National Identity Scheme.

Try this consultation question: "views are sought on the ways to create an effective market to deliver fingerprint enrolment capability for the Scheme". This matter was debated for 18 months by the Crosby Forum on public-private identity management. The government already know the answer.

Sir James Crosby told them, in fluent Mandarin, that there is no way to create this effective market: "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". So why are IPS asking again?

And this one: "your views are sought on what kind of information about the Scheme may be needed by organisations that might want to take part in delivering the Scheme". It's IPS's job to issue invitations to tender to these organisations, specifying the requirements. It's not the suppliers' job to guess what IPS want. Back to front again. Who is consulting whom? No wonder the suppliers are racing for the exit.

They're a bit funny about numbers, as well, the government.

Italy has 8,000 places where people can register for ID cards. The Netherlands are planning a network of 4,000 registration centres. And the National Physical Laboratory suggested that we might need about 2,000 in the UK. IPS have set up a network of ... 69 registration centres.

That's not the funny bit. IPS now plan to outsource a lot of the fingerprinting required for registration. Instead of paying IPS to be fingerprinted, we will pay someone else, an agent of IPS. That means that something like a billion pounds over the next 10 years will not go through IPS's books. Which, according to the Guardian, and this is the funny bit, prompted Lord West to say yesterday that: "new figures to be published next month could show the expected cost of the government's identity card scheme has fallen by £1bn".

Following Lord West's logic, if it was all outsourced and no money went through IPS's books, then the National Identity Scheme would be free.

If he's ringing a bell but you can't quite place Lord West, read this – he's the security adviser to the Prime Minister who had to have it explained to him by the Prime Minister that actually he, the security adviser, really is in favour of 42 days detention without charge, after he inadvertently told us all that 28 days is quite long enough.

And that's another funny thing about government decision-making. Why have an adviser whom you end up having to advise yourself? It's back to front again.

It's funny, but government decision-making does not seem to be based on the logical use of evidence.

David Moss has spent five years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.

© 2008 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd