6 April 2007


The Chairman presents his report on the deliberations of the Bushels Committee and is pleased to announce that this year's winner is Joan Ryan MP, the Under-Secretary of State for Nationality at the Home Office.

It is in the nature of the Award that the holder be unknown to most people. Especially so in the case of this year's winner. Clicking on the link to her website draws a blank. And her biography reveals little more than that her majority in Enfield North is a precarious 1,920.

Let me start therefore by identifying the contribution which first brought Joan Ryan to the attention of the Committee. This was a letter to the Daily Telegraph of 11 November 2006 in which she gamely tried to defend ID cards while admitting that they didn't prevent the Madrid railway bombings:

We have never said that the scheme will be a silver bullet for terrorism - though it should be noted that Spanish police have said that their national identity scheme made identifying the terrorists involved in the Madrid bombings significantly easier.

Ms Ryan then disappeared from the Committee's view for two months or so until, on 12 January 2007, the Daily Telegraph carried the following report:

The Home Office was in fresh turmoil last night after it emerged that two ministers were alerted months ago to the criminals abroad fiasco about which John Reid told MPs he knew nothing … It was disclosed that last October, Tony McNulty, the police minister, had been sent a letter from police chiefs specifically concerning the issue of processing information about foreign convictions. It suggested that the information be passed on to Mr Reid. A reply was sent last month by Joan Ryan, a junior minister in charge of the Criminal Records Bureau, who told radio listeners yesterday that "to the best of my knowledge" she knew nothing about the issue.

It is hard for most MPs to maintain this standard. Tony McNulty, for example, burst out laughing when Eddie Mair asked him on the PM programme to name any successful government IT project. And Dick Caborn looked distinctly nervous in his Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman, as he tried to explain that there was nothing odd about the UK's £2bn bid for the Olympics turning into an invoice for £9bn. Even Jack Straw was heard to apologise before saying on the Today programme that the ID cards scheme was there to defend the ultimate civil liberty, the right to life.

But not Ms Ryan. She makes it all seem so easy.

Just look at her latest letter to The Herald about battered wives and the dangers to them represented by the government's innovative ID cards scheme.

Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act lists the personal information that may be recorded on the National Identity Register (NIR). This may include your name and any other names you are known by or have been known by, your address and every other address you have lived at. Just the sort of information that would be needed, you might imagine, by a man determined to track down the partner he has abused and who is now in hiding. But you are an amateur. Whereas Ms Ryan is a professional to her fingertips. To her, the suggestion that the NIR is a threat to abuse victims can be dismissed with a single word:

… scaremongering.

The Strategic Action Plan for the National Identity Scheme (SAPNIS) includes a two-page foreword, signed by Ms Ryan. She should therefore know that at para.2 of the plan it says that: "When you want to prove your identity to an accredited organisation, for example to open a bank account, they will, with your consent, be able to use the Scheme's identity checking services". And at para.86 of the plan it says: "[for] employers a combined 'identity and right to work' checking service will make it harder for foreign nationals to work illegally" and "when customers buy age-restricted goods, retailers will easily be able to establish proof of age". The checking services provided for the banks, employers and retailers mentioned in the plan can only work if these companies have access to the NIR. And yet, according to Ms Ryan:

… only vetted civil servants will have access to the register and not private companies … Private organisations will only be able to request confirmation of an individual's identity and then only with that individual's consent.

There are many biometrics which could be used to identify us. Some work well. Some don't. The Home Office have considered three biometrics for the ID cards scheme - facial geometry, irisprints and fingerprints.

According to the National Physical Laboratory, in their report to the Home Office, "face recognition fails to approach the required performance" (para.52c). So that doesn't work. Compare the pictures of Ms Ryan in SAPNIS (p.4) and in her biography and you will see the problem.

The Home Office have dropped irisprints, at least for the moment.

Which just leaves fingerprints and, in the UKPS Biometrics Enrolment Trial, only 81% of participants could use their fingerprints to verify their identity (para. 19% of participants couldn't. In a population of 50m UK cardholders, that implies that the biometrics on 9.5m ID cards will be useless. Ms Ryan remains nevertheless steadfast:

A national identity scheme, underpinned by our unique biometric data, will provide a vital tool for law enforcement officials frustrating criminals who depend on multiple, false and stolen identities to operate.

The Committee are unanimous in their opinion that the quotations above constitute the finest collection of bushels at Westminster today and we salute Joan Ryan MP, who hides her light under them.

In the wise words of St Matthew (v 15):

Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick.

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

2007 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd