The identity crisis continues

A government report says the National Identity Scheme will fail if it does not primarily serve the public, including being free to join

by Michael Smith

Sir James Crosby's much delayed review of identity management, commissioned by Gordon Brown when he was still chancellor, was not available at the event in March 2008 where home secretary Jacqui Smith outlined her plans for the National Identity Scheme. That is not surprising: it makes embarrassing reading for the government.

The former HBOS chief executive recommends that the identity scheme should be free to join: it will not be. He thinks it should be run independently, perhaps by Parliament: it is run by a Home Office agency.

Crosby's main point is that the scheme should be so useful and easy that citizens actively want to use it, in the manner of Google. Yet it remains to be seen whether the government is listening. For example, it sounds as if students may have a tough time if they do not enrol, rather than the scheme transforming their lives if they do.

Crosby's report shifts the emphasis of government policy away from identity management and towards identity assurance. It states: "ID assurance meets a clear and growing consumer need, whereas ID management addresses the interests of the owners of any identity database."

He recommends that the scheme should be accountable to Parliament, rather than government; that the amount of centrally held data should be minimised; and that citizens should be able to block reuse of their data except for national security purposes.

The identity scheme's core problem was and is that the government wants it to be two things at once: a security system that stops people from doing things, and a enabling system that helps them.

Crosby believes there is very little common ground, and says that the scheme has to focus on enabling people - even for the purposes of national security, as otherwise citizens will minimise usage as far as possible, providing little data to be trawled.

If the scheme fails, he just got in his "I told you so".

The problem with this hair-brained ID card scheme of this government and that of other EU nations – and forgive if I am wrong but this to me would appear to be in fact a scheme that the European Union is demanding (for better control of all citizens – welcome to 1984) – that the British government and its agencies simply cannot, as is proven day-by-day with the losses of sensitive data, be trusted with the data of the subjects of Her Majesty. Nay, I did not say a wrong thing. Please remember that the British citizen is but a figment of imagination.

However, whichever way, the British government and it agencies and the contractors and sub-contractors used by said agencies has such a dismal record as to data protection that there is just no way, whether the scheme is free to join or compulsory – and I am sure we all remember that we were told in the beginning that it was going to be entirely voluntary (believing this government is not easy) – that no one in their right mind could be prepared to trust his or her data, including and especially biometric information and such, to such agencies.

I also doubt that it would be any different whether the Tories of the Liberal-Democrats would be in charge as to the data problems as the problems do seem to lie with the civil service and the departments rather than with the politicians.

On the other hand, though whether we can believe them or not, both the Tories and the Whigs have promised to get rid of that hair-brained scheme altogether. And pigs might fly, I know, for if this comes from Brussels and the new European Ministry of Security then there is no way that it can be abandoned.

Data can be made secure on a small and a large scale but whether the British government agencies would know how to work hardware encryption is questionable.

© M Smith (Veshengro), September 2008