The Select Committee on Science and Technology has today (Friday 4 August) published its report Identity Card Technologies: Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence.
This Report is the final of three case studies considering the Government's treatment of scientific advice, risk and evidence. It focuses upon the Home Office's identity cards scheme, which uses various technologies including biometrics, information and communication technology (ICT) and smart cards. They considered this scheme in order to explore the ways in which scientific advice, risk and evidence could be managed in relation to technologies that are continually developing.
The summary says: 'This inquiry has found several areas in which the Home Office's treatment of scientific advice and evidence appears to be following good practice: the establishment of advisory committees, the use of Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Gateway Reviews and the development of risk management strategies are examples. We welcome the Home Office's commitment to implementing the scheme gradually rather than using a "big bang" approach, which could jeopardise the success of the programme.
'We have also identified weaknesses in the use of scientific advice and evidence. We are disappointed with the lack of transparency surrounding the incorporation of scientific advice, the procurement process and the ICT system. Potential suppliers are confused about the extent to which the scheme will be prescriptive and when technical specifications will be released. Whilst the Home Office has attempted to consult the wider community, stakeholders have complained that consultations have been unduly limited in scope and their objectives have been unclear. As a result, the wider community does not have the level of confidence in the scheme that could reasonably be expected at this stage. Whilst the Home Office has determined some aspects of the scheme such as the biometrics, it has left other aspects such as the structure of the database undetermined. Its decisions demonstrate an inconsistent approach to scientific evidence and we are concerned that choices regarding biometric technology have preceded trials. Given that extensive trialling is still to take place, we are sceptical about the validity of costs produced at this stage. We note the danger of cost ceilings driving the choice of technology and call for the Home Office to publish a breakdown of the technology costs following the procurement process.
'The identity cards scheme has at least another two years before identity cards begin to be introduced and the scheme has not yet entered its procurement phase. There is still time for the Home Office to make alterations to its processes. We encourage the Home Office to seek advice on ICT from senior and experienced professionals and to establish an ICT assurance committee. Whilst biometric technology is an important part of the scheme, it must not detract from other aspects of the programme, in particular ICT. It is crucial that the Home Office increases clarity and transparency across the programme, not only in problem areas. We also emphasise that if evidence emerges that contradicts existing assumptions, changes must be made to the programme even if the timescale or cost of the Project is extended in consequence.'
Dr Edgar A Whitley, of the LSE Department of Management, and the research co-ordinator for the LSE Identity Project said: 'We welcome this Report from the Science and Technology Committee which highlights many of the same concerns about the risk, purpose and implementation of the Identity Cards Scheme as our own research.
'Recent leaks have already undermined public confidence in the government's ability to implement a successful identity management scheme for the United Kingdom. If it is to have any chance of success, the Home Office must change its culture of secrecy about the scheme. It must issue a clear timetable about its next steps including when the detailed specifications for the scheme are to released to industry and provide assurances that the necessary trials of key technologies will not be rushed simply to satisfy short-term political goals.'
The Identity Project has been organised and sponsored by the Information Systems Group at LSE, now part of the Department of Management. Numerous LSE staff members and an international team of 60 researchers contributed to, and reviewed, the reports.
The first report from the Project was published in June 2005. The second on15 January 2006. For this, and other material relating to the Project, please click here
Contact Dr Edgar Whitley on email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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