7 Public engagement and communication |
136. There has been criticism over the lack of public
debate regarding the technologies supporting the identity cards
scheme. Dr John Daugman from Cambridge University said that "public
discussion of scientific issues related to biometrically-enabled
ID cards has been of a poor standard".
Jerry Fishenden from Microsoft agreed, saying that "communication,
such as it is, is both insufficient in quantity, if you like,
and the quality of it at the moment is not of the calibre I would
Dr Tony Mansfield from the National Physical Laboratory said that
"given that there can be so many misconceptions about how
the scheme should work, would work, there are some problems with
Furthermore, Intellect has suggested that the debate has been
skewed towards biometric technologies. It has stated that "it
is important to recognise that although the ID Card debate has
focused primarily on biometrics so far, there is more to ID Cards
and identity management."
137. The Home Office has attempted to communicate
with the public. The identity cards programme, in co-operation
with the UK Passport Service, has developed a public communications
strategy, which has involved various activities including:
a) regional biometric roadshows in September
and October 2005 where members of the public could have their
iris and fingerprints recorded and verified;
b) production of customer leaflets explaining
biometrics, how facial biometrics will work on the e-passport
and how biometric passports will fight fraud;
c) making information regarding the scheme available
on the IPS website; and
d) creation of a DVD to explain the implementation
of the identity cards programme.
We acknowledge the Home Office's efforts to engage
the public and recommend that these efforts intensify as the scheme
138. We also note however the apparent disconnect
between the Home Office's activities and the poor quality of public
debate highlighted in the evidence that we have received. We believe
that the problem may result from prominent media reports, for
example about the Atos Origin report, the skimming of information
off biometric passports, the LSE Identity Project Report and an
early variant identity card. As already mentioned, the Atos Origin
report was not designed as a trial to look at the performance
of technology (see paragraph 88). However, following the leak
of the Atos Origin report in October 2005, there were numerous
articles detailing the "failures of biometric technology".
In February 2006, there were several reports explaining how a
Dutch firm had skimmed data from a biometric passport.
As mentioned previously, the Identity Project at the London School
of Economics has been the subject of numerous press reports that
have emphasised its criticisms of the Home Office scheme.
More recently, internal e-mails from the Office of Government
Commerce published in the press have referred to an early variant
card, which other newspaper reports have speculated would just
include a facial image or two fingerprints.
Such articles disseminate misleading or factually inaccurate information,
which undermines public confidence in the scheme and allows misconceptions
regarding the technology to develop that may cause problems later.
139. Although some of these articles contained rebuttals
from Home Office officials, of course not all did so and we acknowledge
that the media can be selective in choosing information. The National
Physical Laboratory notes that "the media has often been
selective in quoting our responses, using only those that support
the thrust of their story".
Qinetiq has also said that "it is inevitable that the media
will focus on the sensational or the worrying stories. More attention
needs to be given upfront to combining a media-savvy approach
with informed technical input."
140. Given that the Minister, Joan Ryan, has acknowledged
that "When we are running this out to the public, there is
a huge issue of trust", we encourage the Home Office to engage
proactively with relevant journalists.
The departmental Chief Scientific Adviser explained to us that
he was already taking this approach in other areas such as crime.
Regarding the positive presentation of science and statistics
in the media, he said that:
"There are some real difficulties there. I am
not blaming the journalists or the press; I think there is a problem.
There is a problem because, as we know, we do tend to have a rather
weak scientific and numeracy culture in this country which does
We urge Professor Wiles to apply this approach to
other areas of science within the Home Office, in particular the
technologies supporting the identity cards scheme.
141. We support
the identity cards programme's public communications strategy.
However, we believe that this effort has been undermined by damaging
media reports. We recommend that the Home Office seeks to inform
the identity cards debate with accurate statistics and evidence,
and communicates with the media more clearly in addition to seeking
to rebut allegations as they arise.
286 Ev 83 Back
Q 516 Back
Q 539 (Mansfield) Back
Ev 103 Back
Ev 119-120 Back
Gerri Peev, "ID cards will lead to 'massive fraud'",
The Scotsman, 18 October 2005; Tim Shipman, "The 'faulty'
ID cards that could fail to identify a terror suspect", Daily
Mail,17 October 2005, p5; Marie Woolf, "ID Card
scanning system riddled with errors; Hi-Tech equipment could misidentify
one in 1,000 people, say official", Independent on Sunday,
16 October 2005, p 10; Oonagh Blackman, "ID Cards won't
work if you've got brown eyes says Govt. Minister", The
Mirror, 17 October 2005, p 16 Back
Fran Yeoman, "Dutch firm exposes flaw in security of biometric
passports", The Times , 3 February 2006, p 17; Allison
Martin,"Chip and Pinch; ID Card fears after biometric passport
'cracked' in 2 hours", The Mirror, 2 February 2006,
p 4 Back
Jimmy Burns, "Treasury should take over project, says study",
The Financial Times, 17 January 2006, p 2 Back
"Emails from Whitehall officials in charge of ID cards",
The Sunday Times, 9 July 2006;Jean Eaglesham, "ID
cards procurement put on hold", The Financial Times, 12
July 2006, p 2 Back
Ev 110 Back
Ev 86 Back
Q 1154 Back
Q 1118, HC 900-x, (to be published in HC 900-II, Session 2005-06) Back