Bad, expensive idea–Full Speed Ahead

The biometric ID card has been one of my hot buttons for a long time. The U.K. is a little ahead of us on this and they are finding out it’s a bad idea:

MPs attacked plans for identity cards as inconsistent and lacking clarity yesterday and called for a rethink of the technology to be used.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report expressing incredulity that the Home Office claimed to be able to produce firm estimates of the costs of running ID cards when fundamental technical decisions were still unclear.

The Home Office has said that running costs would be £584 million a year, whereas the London School of Economics, in a controversial report, has put the total costs of setting up and running ID cards at between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion.

The report called on the Government to disclose more information about how the scheme would operate, particularly the database on which personal details would eventually be held.

The criticism comes after the admission by the Home Office last month that the introduction of identity cards as a voluntary measure was likely to be delayed past the target date of 2008 because of practical difficulties in implementing a scheme of that size.

The MPs’ report, which focused on the use of science and risk management in the ID cards policy, was particularly critical of ministers for deciding at the outset to have a sophisticated identity card holding three forms of biometric data — ten fingerprints, two iris scans and a face scan.

They expressed surprise at the unscientific manner in which this was decided, without adequate evidence on their effectiveness, especially of iris scanning, and urged the Government to be ready to change this if necessary.

Subsequent trials of the biometric technology showed that iris scans had a higher recognition rate for white and Asian participants than those who were black, casting doubt on their effectiveness. The Government faced further embarrassment over ID cards yesterday when the Information Commissioner criticised the Treasury for refusing to release information about the programme’s budget and timetable.

So what does Blair say he is going to do about it?

Tony Blair brushed aside criticism of the Government’s plans for identity cards yesterday, saying that they would remain a central policy aim for Labour.

Addressing his monthly press conference at Downing Street, the Prime Minister said: “Don’t be in any doubt that this goes forward. Absolutely.”

He added: “Whatever the technical issues this is a major, major issue for us and will be a major plank of Labour’s manifesto at the next election.”

I just hope we can learn something from their mistakes–like don’t go there!