Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report

8  Conclusion

142. This inquiry has uncovered several areas in which the Home Office's treatment of scientific advice and evidence appears to be following good practice. The establishment of committees of experts, the use of OGC Gateway Reviews, discussions with international experts and the commitment to trialling technology are examples. In particular, we welcome the Home Office's assertion that it will take a cautious approach to the scheme and that implementation will be gradual. The Home Office is currently in the process of gathering evidence and advice; how it uses that information will have an impact upon the scheme.

143. There are however also several areas of the scheme that cause us great concern. Firstly, the identity cards programme team appear to have concentrated on biometrics because it is an emerging technology. This focus has seemingly detracted attention from other technological and scientific aspects of the programme. Whilst several processes for feeding in scientific advice from experts have been established for biometrics, similar processes are lacking in ICT and social science. We recognise that ICT is not the responsibility of the departmental Chief Scientific Adviser but, despite correspondence with the Home Office, we are still unclear about who actually has this responsibility within the programme. It seems that this lack of clarity might have been exacerbated by the recent creation of the Identity and Passport Service. This is undesirable, particularly in a scheme that is as reliant upon a complex and large ICT solution as the identity cards programme. Furthermore, it seems that the Home Office appears to be isolating itself from the wealth of expertise available in other departments and this may cause problems with interoperability in the future.

144. The division between biometrics and other aspects of the programme has been emphasised by an inconsistent approach to scientific advice and evidence. Whilst some aspects of the scheme, such as the types of biometrics to be used have been determined, other areas, such as the architecture of the ICT system have been left to industry. This inconsistency has caused confusion in the wider community and the extent to which the scheme will be prescriptive is not clear. Such confusion has been exacerbated by the lack of transparency of the scheme. In addition, there is a lack of clarity regarding the overall scope of the scheme, the scenarios when the card might be used, the procurement process and the OGC Gateway reviews. With regard to the procurement process, it is particularly important if the Home Office is intending to take a flexible approach to its timetable that it keep the relevant communities informed. In relation to this inquiry, greater clarity regarding the Home Office's approach to risk management, costs and systems architecture may have allayed the concerns expressed in this Report.

145. We emphasise however that the identity cards scheme has at least another two years before identity cards begin to be introduced and the scheme has still not entered the procurement phase. There is still time for the Home Office to make alterations that would improve the prospects of the project. Firstly, given that the programme is still in the pre-procurement stage we encourage the Home Office to employ a systems architect and establish an ICT assurance committee to provide advice on ICT, particularly the scheme specifications, and to review proposed solutions when that stage is reached. Secondly, we reemphasise the importance of communication with stakeholders, including scientists and technological experts. It is crucial that the Home Office increases clarity and transparency, not only in the areas identified as problematic but across the programme. Thirdly, we reiterate that once trials commence, if the evidence gathered indicates the need for changes in the programme, such changes should be made even if the timescale of the project is extended in consequence. If appropriate changes are made, the identity cards scheme could still become an example of good practice in the handling of scientific advice, risk and evidence.

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