Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Stakeholder engagement


1.  The Home Office has consulted the wider community and has tried to apply best practice in this area. However, stakeholders are not satisfied with the nature of consultation and feel that consultations have been unduly limited in scope with unclear evidence gathering objectives. As a result, the wider community does not have the level of confidence in the scheme that could be expected following a successful consultation process. (Paragraph 31)

2.  We recommend that the Home Office undertakes future consultations on scientific and technical issues as well as the procurement process. (Paragraph 33)


3.  We conclude that the processes by which scientific advice is incorporated into policy are not completely transparent and that organisations are not receiving feedback regarding their advice. We urge the Home Office to fulfil their welcome commitment to make it clear how and what advice has been incorporated into the development of future policy, particularly the technical specification. (Paragraph 36)


4.  We are aware that political pressures inevitably impact on the scheme, but it is highly regrettable that the emphasis on different aspirations has changed. This has created uncertainty for the public and industry alike. We hope that the situation will stabilise now that the Bill has received Royal Assent. (Paragraph 37)

5.  We urge the Home Office to finalise the scope of the scheme and the technical standards needed for interoperability as soon as possible. (Paragraph 42)

6.  In order to clarify when and how the card might be used, we recommend that the Home Office releases more information regarding what personal data will be revealed in different scenarios, including in an online context. Until this 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. (Paragraph 45)

7.  We recommend that the Home Office issues a clear timetable for the publication of the technical specifications and defines procurement processes and stages. (Paragraph 46)

8.  We are disappointed that two years after the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into identity cards the problems regarding clarity have not been resolved. We urge the Home Office to address these issues immediately. (Paragraph 47)

Sources of scientific advice

Advisory committees

9.  We welcome the establishment of the Biometrics Experts Group and the Biometrics Assurance Group, although we regret the time that the Home Office has taken to set them up. We support the involvement of Sir David King and believe that the Assurance Group has the potential to work well, particularly in providing consistent advice across Government. We seek confirmation from the Home Office that the Biometrics Assurance Group will be given the direction, tools and time to fulfil its tasks in practice and that the Group's recommendations will be taken into account. (Paragraph 53)

10.  We recommend that the Identity and Passport Service establish an ICT Assurance Committee consisting of academics and industry experts and that this committee reviews the programme specifications relating to ICT. (Paragraph 55)

11.  We welcome the work that has been undertaken over the last two years by the Government in developing the network of Chief Information Officers and more recently, Chief Technology Officers. We have not received any evidence demonstrating that these changes have impacted upon the identity cards programme. Given the central role played by ICT in the identity cards programme, we recommend that the involvement of ICT professionals within Government in the scheme be made clear and, if appropriate, that the Chief Information Officer chair the ICT Assurance Committee. (Paragraph 57)

Academia and learned societies

12.  We believe that the Home Office is not taking full advantage of the impartial advice that could be offered by the academic computer science and information systems community. We recommend that the Home Office uses the ICT Assurance Committee in order to fully engage the academic ICT community. (Paragraph 61)

13.  The LSE reports served a useful purpose in opening up debate on the scheme but the resulting emphasis upon the cost of the scheme and the errors in the initial interim report inhibited the development of the necessary wide-ranging debate. (Paragraph 65)

14.  We are disappointed by the nature of the Government's reaction to the criticisms outlined in the LSE reports. We believe that the way in which the LSE reports have polarised the debate regarding identity cards, whether intentionally or not, has been detrimental. The Home Office would have been better advised to put together a dispassionate critique of the LSE Identity Project Report rather than seek to undermine its credibility and motivation. (Paragraph 67)


15.  We recommend that, particularly as it enters the procurement phase, the Home Office works to develop further its relationships with industry. Industry is a significant source of scientific and risk reduction advice as well as being a pool of potential suppliers. We reiterate that the Home Office needs to engage in wide-ranging debate with industrial experts regarding scientific and technical aspects of the scheme. (Paragraph 70)

Co-ordination within Government

16.  We recommend that the Home Office undertakes a cross-Government consultation regarding its plans for technology to support the identity card scheme before the specifications of the scheme are finalised and that it makes the findings of this consultation public. (Paragraph 76)

International models

17.   We recommend that the Home Office continues to develop international links during the programme but stress that the limitations of advice and evidence from other schemes must be recognised by Ministers in the light of the unprecedented scale, the use of multiple biometrics and the complex IT requirements of the UK scheme. (Paragraph 80)

18.  In order to build public confidence in the technologies involved, we recommend that the Home Office publishes an overview of the scientific advice and evidence that it receives as a result of international co-operation. (Paragraph 81)

The evidence base


19.  We welcome the Home Office's commitment to publicising fully its plans for trialling once the procurement process has begun. In order to continue this move towards transparency and to build public confidence in the scheme, we recommend that the Home Office also makes public the results of these trials. (Paragraph 83)

20.  We welcome the Home Office's cautious incremental approach and we encourage the Home Office, if necessary, to extend the procurement phase to ensure that enough time is taken to gather the necessary scientific evidence and to undertake all the appropriate trials. In view of the potential adverse impact on large numbers of people, it is better that the scheme is late and workable than on time but flawed. (Paragraph 84)

21.  We recommend that the Home Office publicly outlines the ways in which the results of the trials have influenced and changed the programme. (Paragraph 85)

22.  We seek assurance that the Home Office will not limit the number, scope or quality of technology trials in order to stay within the allocated budget. We recommend that the Home Office ensures that sufficient funding is available to undertake the necessary technology trials for this scheme and that it retains flexibility regarding the trials that may be required. (Paragraph 86)

23.  There is evidence that whilst trial plans were set out clearly the processes with which they were enacted lacked rigor. As a result, the Home Office has selectively used evidence from the biometrics enrolment trial to support its assertions. We believe that the Home Office has been inconsistent regarding the status of this trial and this has caused confusion in relation to the significance of the evidence gathered about biometric technologies. We recommend that the Home Office clarifies whether or not it accepts the validity of the results gained during the trial regarding the performance of biometric technologies. (Paragraph 88)

24.  Given the findings of the biometrics enrolment report regarding the performance of current biometric systems, we seek reassurance from the Home Office that systems will be adapted as necessary to improve performance levels and that final performance levels will be verified by independent testing. (Paragraph 89)

25.  We note the lack of independent evidence relating to the performance of iris scanning and welcome the Home Office's commitment to undertake a large-scale matching test using pre-recorded biometrics. Given the relative lack of information available publicly regarding the performance of biometrics in a national scheme, we recommend that once the scheme is established the Home Office publishes details of the performance levels of the technology. (Paragraph 91)

26.  We are surprised and concerned that the Home Office has already chosen the biometrics that it intends to use before finishing the process of gathering evidence. Given that the Identity Cards Act does not specify the biometrics to be used, we encourage the Home Office to be flexible about biometrics and to act on evidence rather than preference. We seek assurance that if there is no evidence that any particular biometric technology will enhance the overall performance of the system it will not be used. (Paragraph 93)

27.  We note the lack of explicit commitment from the Home Office to trialling the ICT solution and strongly recommend that it take advice from the ICT Assurance Committee on trialling. We seek an assurance that time pressure and political demands will not make the Home Office forgo a trial period or change the purpose of the scheme. (Paragraph 95)

Research and development

28.  We recommend that the Home Office identifies the gaps in the evidence base underpinning the identity cards programme, that it commissions research to fill these gaps and that it feeds any new developments into the scheme where appropriate. This process should be overseen by the departmental Chief Scientific Adviser. (Paragraph 96)

29.  The Home Office cannot afford to delegate responsibility for horizon scanning to others. We recommend that the Home Office actively undertakes horizon scanning activities relevant to the technologies involved in the identity cards programme and that it develops mechanisms to feed this information back into the scheme. (Paragraph 97)

30.  We urge the Home Office to commission, and where appropriate fund, research focused on the specific requirements of the information technology systems in the identity cards scheme rather than relying on general existing study results. (Paragraph 98)

Technology and operating costs

31.  We recommend that the identity cards programme team returns to the KPMG audit report and implements its recommendations. Furthermore, we re-emphasise that the Home Office needs to work out how costs will impact on performance and we seek reassurance from Government that cost limitations will not compromise the level of performance that is accepted. (Paragraph 102)

32.  We are sceptical about the validity of costs produced at this early stage. We acknowledge that the release of firm overall costing has been driven by political imperatives but the Home Office could have credibly given a broad range instead of precise figures. We note the danger that a desire to keep below a costs ceiling might drive the choice of technology. We seek assurances that the costings are flexible. We strongly recommend that, once the procurement process has taken place, the Home Office publishes a breakdown of technology costs, including set-up costs, running costs and predicted savings as a result of the scheme in the Home Office and elsewhere. (Paragraph 105)

33.  We recommend that the Home Office prioritise funding as necessary to ensure that required social science research is undertaken and if necessary commissioned. In particular, we emphasise the need to undertake work to understand the attitudes of prime users towards the current proposals. (Paragraph 109)

34.  We recommend that the Home Office establishes a clear process by which advice from external social science experts regarding future research and the social science aspects of the programme can feed into the scheme. Once research has been undertaken, we urge the Home Office to develop the expertise that will allow it to follow up the results. (Paragraph 111)

The treatment of risk

Treatment of risk

35.  The Home Office has provided us with details of the risk management strategy within the identity cards programme. However we are disappointed that the Chairman was not allowed to view the risk register in confidence. In the light of the evidence provided to us, we are somewhat reassured by the Home Office's risk management strategy. Any delay to the procurement process will postpone the treatment of various risks. We seek assurance that the timing of the procurement process will be considered in relation to risk management. (Paragraph 116)

36.  We recommend that the Home Office make details of its risk model public and that it takes steps to ensure that advice regarding risk management can feed into that model. (Paragraph 117)

37.  We recommend that an overall indication of the outcomes of the OGC Gateway Reviews, but no specifics, be made public in order to increase confidence in the scheme. (Paragraph 119)

38.  It is important that the impact of a politically-imposed deadline will not override the impact of scientific advice or evidence on the readiness of the scheme and we seek reassurance from the Government on this point. (Paragraph 120)

39.  We emphasise the importance of the development of an holistic approach to risk management in order to ensure that focus on biometrics as an emerging technology does not detract attention from other aspects of the scheme. (Paragraph 122)

ICT system

40.  Industry is hoping that the commencement of procurement and the release of specifications will clarify the Home Office's position. Once the specifications have been released, we urge the Home Office to take steps to ensure that the specifications, requirements and risks have been clearly understood by all involved. (Paragraph 126)

41.  The Home Office is reliant on external expertise in the area of ICT and is unable to act as an intelligent customer of scientific advice. We recommend that the Home Office uses a senior and experienced systems architect to advise on the specifications and to provide support during the procurement process. (Paragraph 129)

42.  We recommend that the Home Office give the security properties of the solution a very high priority, not only from the point of view of being trustworthy but also to ensure that the security features do not adversely impact upon the operation of the scheme. Furthermore, we suggest that if possible, the solution should be based on security architectures, technology and processes that are already in use.(Paragraph 135)

Public engagement and communication

43.  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. (Paragraph 141)

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