Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report

1  Introduction

Scientific advice to Government inquiry

1. The Committee announced a broad inquiry into the handling of scientific advice, risk and evidence in policy-making in November 2005.[1] As part of this inquiry, the Committee chose to focus on three case studies considering the EU Physical Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) Directive, the classification of illegal drugs, and the technologies supporting the Government's identity card proposals. The lessons learnt in the case studies will feed into the general conclusions drawn in the over-arching report from the broad inquiry.

2. The Committee chose to focus on the role of scientific advice, use of evidence and handling of risk within the identity cards programme for several reasons. First, the identity cards programme provided a case study that concentrated on a technology-driven policy. The scheme critically involves more than one technology, which increases its interest. Secondly, the programme uses technologies that are continually developing and in this context, the ongoing need for scientific advice and evidence is particularly important. Finally, the inquiry was particularly timely given the contemporaneous passage of the Identity Card Bill through the House.

3. The identity cards scheme is a major project that will use information and communication technology (ICT) and biometric technologies in recording, holding and verifying personal identity information. As such, it is reliant upon sound scientific advice and requires an appropriate approach to the handling of risk. The cost of failure of this project would be enormous, both financially and politically in terms of public trust.

4. In the course of our inquiry we held three oral evidence sessions and took evidence from the following:

a)  Ms Katherine Courtney, the then Director of the Home Office identity cards programme; Dr Henry Bloomfield, the then Technical Lead in the identity cards programme; Mr Nigel Seed, the then Project Director of the National Identity Register and Operational Technology Infrastructure, and Mr Marek Rejman-Greene, Head of the Home Office Biometrics Centre of Expertise;

b)  Nick Kalisperas, Director of Markets at Intellect; Jerry Fishenden, National Technology Officer at Microsoft; Dave Birch, Director of Consult Hyperion; Professor Martyn Thomas from the UK Computing Research Committee (UKCRC); Dr Tony Mansfield from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL); Dr John Daugman, Reader in Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition at the University of Cambridge; Dr Edgar Whitley, Reader in Information Systems at the London School of Economics (LSE), and Professor Angela Sasse, Professor of Human-Centred Technology at University College London (UCL); and

c)  the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for nationality, citizenship and immigration, Home Office, Joan Ryan MP.

5. The transcripts of these sessions are published with this Report, along with the 19 written submissions we received in response to our call for evidence and as answers to supplementary questions. We also held informal meetings with the Department of Homeland Security, the International Biometrics Group and Ultra-Scan during our visit to the United States in March 2006. In July, the Chairman held a private meeting on risk management with Katherine Courtney, Executive Director of Business Development and External Affairs at the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), Dr Henry Bloomfield, Technical Lead, National Identity Register and Operational Technology Infrastructure at the IPS, and Catherine Kimmel, Risk Manager at the IPS. We would like to place on record our thanks to all those who contributed to this inquiry, by giving evidence or by assisting us on our visit. We would also like to thank our specialist adviser, Professor Brian Collins, Head of the Department of Information Systems, Defence College of Management and Technology, Cranfield University.

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Prepared 4 August 2006