At the end of February Home Office minister Meg Hillier explained the UK ID scheme security system to the Home Affairs Committee. "The National Identity Register, essentially," she said, "will be a secure database; ...hack-proof, not connected to the Internet... not be accessible online; any links with any other agency will be down encrypted links."
Except she didn't, apparently, because by the time the Committee session transcript was published, here, Hillier words had become: "The National Identity Register, essentially, will be a secure database; it will not be accessible online; any links with any other agency will
be down encrypted links."
Spooky? We are indebted to William Heath's Ideal Government blog for spotting the difference between what was actually said (noted at the time by an eyewitness) and what appeared in the official record. We should also explain at this point that Hansard, the UK parliamentary record system, is not intended to function as an entirely verbatim transcript of proceedings. It is largely verbatim, but includes some facility for publishing what the speaker meant to say, or perhaps even what they ought to have said.
Ordinarily, however, changes amount to little more than polishing and seldom materially affect the meaning. Ordinarily...
In this case, the removal of "hack-proof, not connected to the Internet" goes some way beyond minor polishing. Do we understand from this that Hillier's officials think it unwise (which, of course, it is) to claim that the NIR is hack-proof? And are they keen to leave wiggle-room on Internet connectivity? A database that is "not accessible online" is not necessarily the same thing as a database that is not connected to the Internet, depending on what you might mean by "not accessible".
Hillier is relatively new to the ID card brief at the Home Office, and has come up with several improbable and/or unfortunate claims in recent months (e.g., "we should see an identity card, like a passport, in country"). At the Committee session, Ideal Government reports that "the officials present were passing notes to try to get her back on message", which we would guess is just the sort of thing that's likely to prompt the acute observer to take especially careful notes. It's a tough job minding some people. ®