Biometric reading technology is to be installed in all UK hospitals and doctor's surgeries, Home Office minister Hazel Blears told Bloomberg earlier today. This will make healthcare conditional on eligibility, and potentially put the government on a collision course with doctors and healthcare workers, who are likely to resist being forced to deny treatment or to administer the government's surveillance systems.
Blear's commitment to having the systems installed in the NHS is the biggest sighting of an ID system deployment so far, and confirms previous Blunkett statements on the subject. The addition of this widespread biometric capability will prove extremely expensive; but for which department? As we pointed out earlier this year, although the Home Office has been chanting the £3.1 billion mantra as the cost of the ID scheme, the reality, as confirmed by David Blunkett in his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, is that the total will be greatly in excess of this, and that individual departments will be forced to foot the bill, which nevertheless is unlikely to figure in whatever it is the Home Office ultimately claims it paid. In this case the biometric reading systems the GPs won't want will be paid for from the NHS budget, as part of the electronic medical record system currently being developed.
As David told the Committee: "we are now in a position to say to department agencies and to the private sector that you will over the next ten years be in a position where if you choose to do so, or if we designate a service to do so, the technology that you are using for other purposes should now be presumed to have an appropriate reader for your proposes, depending on what it is. As with the Minister of State, who I think gave evidence to you last week, we would have a situation where as the electronic medical record programme is developed across the whole of the NHS, that it is done so in a way that the equipment they are using and the computers that they are operating can also build in this facility."
Note that "if he designate a service to do so" indicates that there will be areas where the department (or even private sector companies) will have no choice but to deploy and operate the equipment. So we'll be seeing more examples of shotgun biometrics from the Home Office over the next few years, and we'll probably be seeing a few government IT projects' budgets wrecked by their having extra biometric functionality parachuted in part-way through the process. So who's next? The police? They won't need ordering, but they'll want extra money to do it. Schools? Well, given that Education Secretary Charles Clarke has specifically said under 16 education won't be conditional on ID cards, we figure schools it is. ®
Blunkettwatch: Curiously, now it's finished publicising his book, the web site of government's biggest IT fan, davidblunkett.org.uk, seems to look just a little disused. But we find its insistence that we don't have permission to look at it curiously appropriate.