Civil servants considered including DNA or iris biometrics as well as digital photographs in the ID card scheme and the police wanted carrying the cards to be compulsory, just released documents reveal.
The Office of Government Commerce has finally bowed to legal pressure from trade mag Computer Weekly and released the two Gateway reviews into the national ID scheme. It has taken four years and numerous court hearings to get the two reviews, from 2003 and 2004, released.
The review noted: "The Police felt that the absence of any obligation to carry or produce identity cards would substantially remove the administrative savings and some of the other advantages that Identity Cards would offer."
The 2003 review said: "Biometrics. Opinion seems divided on how effective or dependable biometrics will be. There is little past experience, in the UK or elsewhere, to go on." There is no evidence of any technical consultation or other attempt to answer these questions.
The second review in 2004 also supported a second biometric on the card and was still looking for answers.
Overall the level of dialogue at the OGC seems perfectly suited to its logo, which regular readers may remember. The circlejerk of senior civil servants seem absurdly divorced from reality - they show awareness of neither the technical problems of what they are discussing nor any understanding of, or interest in, public reaction to the scheme.
Support from the rest of the civil service also appears muted. The 2003 review said: "We noted with some concern that the main potential beneficiaries of an Identity Cards scheme, such as police, DVLA, Passport Agency, IND, DWP, Inland Revenue and the financial sector, though generally supportive, were not quite as enthusiastic about the programme as might have been hoped."
Apparently major problems with the project are breezily dismissed.
So the review mentions one of the programme risks: "Inadequate support and commitment (we noted with some concern that the main potential beneficiaries of an Identity Cards scheme, such as police, DVLA, Passport Agency, IND, DWP, Inland Revenue and the financial sector, though generally supportive, were not quite as enthusiastic about the programme as might have been hoped." [sic]
The second review again confidently claims: "The Identity Cards programme’s potential for success is not in doubt. As the SRO and Programme Director recognise, however, there is much work to be done before a robust business case can be established for a solution that meets the business need".
Gateway reviews look at many major government IT projects at various points in order to ensure progress is being made. They give traffic light judgement on projects - in 2003 the ID scheme was given a red light, and by 2004 it was on amber. ®