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ID cards May Cost £300 Per Person

When the previous Home Secretary David Blunkett, first attempted to place its proposal for its ID card legislation before Parliament, I thought that the many technical, fiscal and civil liberties objections presented a sound platform for its rejection. At no time, for example, did Government risk debating its plans on any of the platforms offered outside Parliament and in one example, a year ago, at the London School of Economics, (LSE) nobody from the Home Office appeared to sit alongside Conservative Shadow, David Davis, David Cameron, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, Liberty, Statewatch, The Law Society, The Information Commissioner, The Muslim Council of Great Britain, Ross Anderson and many more leading figures in the privacy and identity space.

At that meeting, I wrote: “Never, have I seen a pillar of Government policy look so demonstrably fragile and flawed. Neatly dissected by the opening arguments of the Shadow Home Secretary and then buried alive by the experts who followed, we were offered little or no reason to believe that an identity card would be proportionate, cost effective or even capable of addressing the problems surrounding terrorism or illegal immigration.”

Twelve months further on to the day and Charles Clarke is driving the ID Card bandwagon with what is in essence the same Bill that fell before the general election. The LSE is about to publish research that reportedly suggests the true cost of the scheme could exceed £18 billion. This is three times the official estimate and which will, by 2013, result in 44 million adults issued with a card containing personal details, stored on a central database which can be accessed by public sector organisations, without the individual's consent.

Only last week, the Home Office issued its own estimate that the cost of running the scheme, in conjunction with a new biometric passport system, would be £5.8bn over the next decade, an average of £93 passed on by government to each card holder, already burdened with road tax, higher community charges, congestion charges, speed cameras, Passport fees and other benefits of living with a “Big Government.”

However, the LSE report may suggest the true cost of implementing and running the ID card project, will be between £12bn and £18bn, raising the cost to each adult cardholder as high as £300, with the cost of biometric card readers underestimated by government by a factor of ten the assumption of a ten year life span for each card flawed. Simply perfecting accuracy of recognition is likely to absorb a significant proportion of the government’s initial £5 billion budget Bearing in mind that the UK has the highest scrap rate of government IT projects in the G7 and with large numbers like these flying around, many informed readers may conclude this sounds like another job for one of the lucky members of a small cartel of companies that dominate 51% of our public sector IT projects and achieve rather less.

Government is determined to bulldozer its Identity Card Bill through a Parliament that does not fully share the Prime Minister’s conviction, that such cards will achieve the dramatic impact on fraud, terrorism and identity theft that he imagines. Previous experience suggests that a project of this size built upon leading-edge technologies, is more likely to fail than to succeed but Government’s touching faith in its suppliers may yet make this the single most expensive IT project of the new Parliament, a project that may deliver greater state control over the citizen and limited impact on crime, terrorism or identity theft.

Tomorrow’s solution to today’s identity crisis is not found embedded on a plastic card. It’s a far greater problem which demands a much broader understanding by politicians of the context of personal identity in a rapidly widening 21st century information space.


Colin Matthews said…
Whether or not the ID card costs £30 as originally suggested by Blunkett or £300, Assylum seekers and the like will be given them free of charge upon entry to this country. And will other Europeans who have free entry to this country to work have to have to purchase one upon entry to the UK?

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