Select Committee on Science and Technology

No.57 of Session 2005-06 2 August 2006



The Science and Technology Committee has today criticised the Government for inconsistencies and a lack of transparency in the way it treats scientific advice in the development of technology supporting identity cards.

Among the concerns expressed in the Committee’s report Identity Card Technologies: Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence is the lack of clarity surrounding the scope of the scheme, how cards will be used, what personal data will be revealed in different scenarios and the way in which the procurement process will work.

The ways in which different Government departments will use the card also does not yet seem to have been finalised and the Report highlights the risk posed to the technological success of the scheme by “function creep”.

The Committee concluded that until more information is released, “it is difficult to ascertain the true scope of the scheme and to fully understand how technology will be used within the scheme”.

While finding several areas where the Home Office’s treatment of scientific advice and evidence appears to be following good practice, the Committee was concerned about the inconsistent approach to scientific advice and evidence regarding the technologies to be used; namely biometrics, information and communication technology and smart cards.

Although some aspects of the scheme, such as the types of biometrics to be used have been determined, other areas, such as the ICT system are being left to industry. Given the number of variables, the Committee was surprised that the Home Office is seemingly able to produce firm figures regarding the running costs of the scheme when the costs of the technology are not yet clear.               

The Home Office is urged to increase clarity and transparency across the programme, and to take a flexible approach so that it can make the necessary changes when new evidence emerges, including delaying implementation. It should engage in a more wide-ranging debate with industrial and academic experts regarding the scientific and technical aspects of the scheme.

Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee Phil Willis said: “We were encouraged that scientific advice is being sought in a number of areas in the identity cards project but the Home Office needs to make some critical changes.”

“There is not the level of confidence in this scheme that could be expected at this stage. Despite their vested interests in the scheme, industrial representatives are speaking openly about their concerns regarding the identity cards programme - this should set alarm bells in the Home Office ringing.”

“Too many aspects of the identity cards programme are unclear: costs, acceptable technology performance levels, plans for the ICT system and the scope of the scheme.”

“As a matter of urgency and to increase public confidence, the Home Office must give a clearer idea of what identity cards will be used for if the right technology is to be put in place.”

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Notes to editors:

• Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152 the Science and Technology Committee is empowered to examine the “expenditure, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Technology and its associated public bodies”. The Committee was appointed on 19 July 2005.

• This inquiry was announced on 9 November 2005 in Press Notice No 9 of session 2005-06.

• Evidence sessions were held on Wednesday: 22 March when evidence was heard from the Home Office; on 3 May when evidence was heard from biometrics and IT experts from industry and academia; and on 14 June when evidence was heard from Home Office Ministers.

• Copies of the Reports can be obtained from TSO outlets and from the Parliamentary Bookshop , 12 Bridge Street, Parliament Square, London SW1A 2JX (020 7219 3890) by quoting the appropriate HC number, [HC 1032], from the day of publication.

• The text of the Reports will be available via the Committee’s website

Membership of the Committee

Mr Phil Willis (Lib Dem, Harrogate and Knaresborough)(Chairman)
Adam Afriyie (Con, Windsor)
Mr Robert Flello (Lab, Stoke-on-Trent South)
Mr Jim Devine (Lab, Livingston)
Dr Evan Harris (Lib Dem, Oxford West & Abingdon)
Dr Brian Iddon (Lab, Bolton South East)
Margaret Moran (Lab, Luton South)
Mr Brooks Newmark (Con, Braintree)
Anne Snelgrove (Lab/Co-op, South Swindon)
Bob Spink (Con, Castle Point)
Dr Desmond Turner (Lab, Brighton Kemptown)