The government should not scrap its ID scheme but radically rethink it. It should postpone the idea of the ID card and focus instead on allocating a unique national identity number, backed by biometrics, to each citizen—that is all that needs to be held in a national registerby David Birch / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
Gordon Brown’s first six months in power present an opportunity to review many policy commitments, and one that is sure to be on his list is the national identity card scheme. It remains, in principle, popular with the public, but support is ebbing away as some of the civil libertarian attacks start to hit home and the costs rise. A useful checkpoint is coming up. Last year, as chancellor, Brown commissioned a public-private forum on identity management under the former head of HBOS, James Crosby, to look at the potential uses of the proposed scheme by business. The forum is due to report towards the end of the year, and this provides a convenient opportunity for reviewing the project. I say this not because I want Brown to scrap it—I’m sure he will not—but because I want him to take the time to make it better. That is, to make it simpler, cheaper and more useful.
Why? Well, not having an identity scheme is clearly sub-optimal, but I don’t think the proposed scheme is optimal either. I would prefer to see a third way: a scheme that takes into account both the march of technology and the practicalities of deployment; that meets the government’s goals but sets aside its presumed solution. We lack a technologically informed, socially aware vision for national identity management, and we need to construct one.
Will the database be secure?
What is being proposed? The government’s scheme has two components: a national identity register and a national identity card. The register is simply a database of information about individuals (name, address, fingerprints and so on). Its critics say there are two fundamental problems. The first is that it won’t work—not a wild prediction, given the history of government IT procurement. There’s no need to rehearse the litany of government IT catastrophes, except to note that soon after I began this article, the government scrapped the new computer system for registrars’ offices because it was a total failure.
The second claim is that the register won’t be secure, which means that it will make identity theft easier. In 2005, Microsoft broke ranks with other suppliers, saying that, “putting a comprehensive set of personal data in one place produces a honeypot effect, a highly attractive and richly rewarding target for criminals.” A further problem is access. You can keep nuclear missile launch codes secret, because few…