Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  Q100  Janet Anderson: When the whole population, do you think?

  Katherine Courtney: To reach the whole of the population would probably require a move to compulsion, so I cannot give an estimate of when that would happen.

  Q101  Janet Anderson: You do have some proposals for a combined passport identity card, I think that is mentioned, and a combined driving licence identity card.

  Katherine Courtney: Yes.

  Q102  Janet Anderson: Presumably for passports, driving licences and identity cards you would have three different databases? Is that right?

  Katherine Courtney: Yes.

  Q103  Janet Anderson: Will they be able to talk to each other and do you ever see a point where you may want to combine the whole lot into one IT database?

  Katherine Courtney: Passports and drivers licences have already, as those two agencies have been doing quite a lot of work together, working very closely, on both the initial checking of applicants and also verifying documentation against each other's databases already. We are effectively looking to build on the good practice that they have already been working on.

  Q104  Janet Anderson: And that is working, is it?

  Katherine Courtney: Yes. In terms of whether those agencies might ever be combined into a single agency, really the structure and function of agencies is a decision for the Government of the day, so I am not able to comment on that.

  Stephen Harrison: There will be one record of identity established in the National Identity Register, on which those documents then hang off. Each of those agencies continue to need their own database so that, for example, specific medical information the DVLA might hold about you which might affect your entitlement to drive stays only with DVLA and is owned by DVLA. The basic core identity information like name, address and date of birth sits once on the shared National Register.

  Q105  Chairman: We have a number of elements to the system; we have the database, we have the physical job of collecting the biometrics, we have the production of the cards, we have the administration system and so on. Which of those different functions, potentially, could be carried out by private sector companies rather than by public sector institutions?

  Katherine Courtney: As you know, we are now entering into what we call the "project definition stage" of this project and the design of the solutions, both from the business process and technology perspective, is exactly what we are looking at over the coming year. So it is premature for me to be able to give you any idea of how private sector companies might be involved in the eventual delivery of that solution.

  Q106  Chairman: Are there any areas that have been excluded at the moment from being delivered by the private sector?

  Katherine Courtney: I do not believe that any firm decisions have been taken on any of the designs.

  Q107  Chairman: So the database itself could potentially be run by a private sector organisation?

  Katherine Courtney: I think you would want to distinguish between who has authority over the database and which entity actually does the operational day to day technical maintenance of the database and again no decisions have been taken.

  Q108  Chairman: Is that a clear distinction in your mind?

  Katherine Courtney: It is a clear distinction in my mind, yes.

  Q109  Chairman: Right, but I mean the police national computer, for example, is maintained by the police. The Criminal Records Bureau has access to it. That is not the same as saying that the Criminal Records Bureau, God help us, should run the police national computer.

  Katherine Courtney: Yes, but I think the specific question was about private sector organisations' involvement in this scheme.

  Q110  Chairman: Yes, I am just trying to be clear; in principle, have you excluded the idea that the database could be run and managed and effectively controlled by, not necessarily owned by, controlled by a private sector organisation?

  Katherine Courtney: Again, I can only say that these are all issues that are being explored during the design phase.

  Q111  Chairman: So nothing has, as yet, been excluded. So the job of requiring people to turn up and have their irises photographed, their fingerprints taken, could be potentially be contracted out to a private sector organisation?

  Nicola Roche: As Katherine said, all of this is still under consideration but potentially yes.

  Q112  Chairman: Okay. Clearly production of plastic cards or whatever happens all the time in credit cards. Clearly there are some things that would raise no eyebrows, there are other areas where people might think it was more sensitive to have a private company taking responsibility for an activity. Are there any principles that are governing whether you think a private sector company could do the job or is it simply likely to be cost and deliverability?

  Nicola Roche: I think absolutely essential to this scheme is ensuring that people's personal information and their biometric that they give to us on a confidential basis to keep secure is honoured and that in storing that on the database that we make sure that whoever is running it, whoever has access to it is going to be keep it secure. So that would be a guiding principle throughout and that people's civil liberties are absolutely protected and that there is no way that information could be passed to somebody who did not have a legitimate right to see it.

  Q113  Chairman: Do you expect the Draft Bill to define those areas that can be put out to tender and those that are restricted to public sector operation?

  Nicola Roche: I am not able to give you an absolute answer on that today, but it is clearly something that we will take back to discuss with Ministers.

  Q114  Chairman: You recognise it is an important issue?

  Nicola Roche: Yes.

  Q115  Chairman: In terms of the private sector, you have talked about banks, financial institutions, solicitors or whatever who might wish to use the card; to what extent will you be designing the card and its content around the requirements of private sector users as opposed to public sector users like Benefits or Health?

  Katherine Courtney: The design of the scheme throughout the consultation period to date, coming up with the initial concepts, etc., has been in consultation with private sector organisations as well as public sector. The financial services sector, for instance, has expressed quite a lot of interest in the possibility of using this scheme to prove identity in the future. So the design of the scheme is meant to be putting in place capabilities that are effective and cost effective for a whole range of situations. That runs from potentially a small retailer wanting simply to, if date of birth, for instance, is reflected on the face of these cards, maybe just wanting to be able to use a very simple check for proof of age. On the opposite end of the spectrum you may find that for major financial transactions, a bank may want to be able to perform a verification check of that identity against the database and will be exploring possibilities to make that feasible for them.

  Q116  Chairman: Suppose a financial institution came and said what would be really useful would be for the card to carry details of major criminal convictions?

  Katherine Courtney: I think we have been quite clear that the function and the purpose of the scheme and the function of the card and the system itself is to verify identity. There is no intention to hold any other information about individuals.

  Q117  Chairman: So that would be a straight no to any institution that asked for extra information to be carried in other than the identity information you have already told us about?

  Katherine Courtney: Absolutely.

  Q118  Chairman: What other departments and agencies are being involved alongside the Home Office in developing the biometric and other technologies?

  Katherine Courtney: We have been working very closely not only with colleagues in other Government departments here and across the Home Office, both with the DVLA, who have been looking at this issue, with UK Passport Service, who have done quite a lot of work due to the requirements that are placed upon them now by evolving standards in the international community and also the Immigration Service has done quite a lot of work in this area. But in addition to that, we have been working closely with other countries, with EU partners, with the US and, for instance, taking a very active role in the G8 Working Group on Biometrics.

  Q119  Chairman: How much is the technology going to change? At the moment when you have your iris scan, you have to sit down, I think, in the special booth or in front of a camera. I presume, given I was hoping to get this wonderful mobile phone camera for Christmas, that in 10 years' time a police officer will probably be able to carry a camera capable of doing an iris scan in the street and checking it against a card. Have you looked at how the technologies will change over the next 10 years and what the circumstances are likely to be when the new card is brought into force?

  Katherine Courtney: Certainly the work that has gone before with the National Physical Laboratory study and the consultations that we have taken with the industry sector through, for instance, Intellact, has informed the decisions that have been made to date in designing the preliminary concept for this scheme in terms of how we are going forward. We are looking at future proofing the scheme. Obviously there is no point in building something that is obsolete before we launch it. I cannot predict for you how the technology will change.

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