Memorandum from LASSeO
LASSeO, the Local Authority Smartcard Standards
e-Organisation, was created in March 2002 from interested local
authorities and partnerships, at the suggestion of the ALCO partnership,
to assist the local authority sector by reducing the risks caused
by a lack of agreed standards for the public sector.
LASSeO, as its name implies, is concerned with
doing this by selecting or developing standards and specifications
for the public sector. The organisation's mission is to ensure
that the full potential of smartcards is harnessed in the delivery
of local authority electronic services for the benefit of UK citizens,
by defining and monitoring interoperability standards and frameworks
across platforms, issuers, local services, and environments.
LASSeO acts as a smartcard standards body for
local government and has excellent links with industry and other
standards bodies. As such it is well positioned to be aware of
any external contact from the Home Office National ID project.
Like other players outside central Government,
we find the whole process highly opaque. We have no direct knowledge
of the existence of Chief Scientific Advisors let alone their
impact on the Policy making process. Our industry links lead us
to believe that levels of skill in this technology are low within
Throughout the comments below we are assuming
that the term Scientific Advisers includes responsibility for
technology. In general terms (possibly with the exception of biometrics)
the science is determined but the technology involved in deploying
it is the case in point here.
2. SUMMARY AND
As an organisation that aims to support the
deployment of smartcards in the public sector, LASSeO is very
keen to ensure that whatever arises from the National ID card
scheme works well with other public sector card schemes.
The National ID scheme demands attention from
the wider public sector because, if it is implemented well, it
could provide a very useful fillip to mass card deployment and
could significantly change the authentication landscape. However,
if not implemented well, it could put back the status of smartcards
In the event, the whole science/technology/advice
process and its impact on policy have been opaque. As stated below,
it is very difficult to discover an accurate and authoritative
position on current thinking about what technology will be deployed
and how it will be used.
Presumably the project has been through some
kind of gateway process but this remains unclear outside the project.
Indeed, the process underway is not known or understood by large
parts of the smart card industry and there has been a lack of
detailed engagement with some obvious external peer groups. The
run-down of the e-GU Smartcard Working Group is a classic case
in point. A fairly strong, technically able group that was effectively
providing free review of government smartcard activity has been
allowed to lapse without any obvious replacement mechanism.
There now appears to be no external scrutiny
of the technology being adopted and the quality of the process
could be considerably improved by the establishment of an external
peer group review. If carefully chosen and properly funded, this
would perform the role of critical friends who could become ambassadors
for the technology being used within the project.
3. THE DETAILED
3.1 Sources and handling of advice
What impact are departmental Chief Scientific
Advisers having on the policy making process?
We suspect very littlethis involvement
has not been visible at all to those outside Central Government.
What is the role of the Government Chief Scientific
Adviser in the policy making process and what impact has he made
Again, this involvement has not been visible
at all to those outside Central Government.
Are existing advisory bodies being used in a satisfactory
LASSeO was initially involved in some early
discussions around appropriate standards and had some passing
input to e-GU support provided to the project. This effort would
have been able to be sustained and the input greater had even
limited funding been available.
As an influential organisation, we receive frequent
questions about this project from other forums and local authorities
indicating that other usual channels have not been adequately
Are Government departments establishing the right
balance between maintaining an in-house scientific capability
and accessing external advice?
LASSeO believes that there is a general lack
of smartcard expertise in central government and, although strenuous
efforts seem to have been made, believes that more work is required
here. We are not aware of significant attempts to access external
advice, outside the initially inexperienced (in smartcard terms)
consultancy used within the project.
3.2 Relationship between scientific advice
and policy development
What mechanisms are in place to ensure that policies
are based on available evidence?
The e-GU has advised the Home Office on the
ID project but its access to available evidence has been limited
by the winding-down of the e-GU Smartcard Working group that existed
early in the project development.
This Working Group should have been used as
a much needed peer group for external challenge and review but
it has been allowed to fall into disuse.
Are departments engaging effectively in horizon scanning
activities and how are these influencing policy?
As suggested above, technology specialists and
those in the smartcard industry who might expect to be involved
have not been engaged in the project.
If this activity is being carried out, it is
not visible outside government circles.
Is Government managing scientific advice on cross-departmental
Taking a wider view, the answer is no. Engagement
with technology advice on wider cross-public sector issues has
been, at best, sporadic.
3.3 Treatment of risk
Is risk being analysed in a consistent and appropriate
manner across Government?
Has the precautionary principle been adequately defined
and is it being applied consistently and appropriately across
How does the media treatment of risk issues impact
on the Government approach?
The media treatment of risk issues has had an
undue impact on the Government approach. The amount of "noise"
surrounding the project has made it very difficult to engage with.
It is very difficult to establish what detailed plans exist or
are being developed, what technologies will be selected, how these
technologies will be used, etc. This has been a major factor in
the lack of engagement from local government, and some degree
of scepticism from technologists outside the project.
3.4 Transparency, communication and public
Is there sufficient transparency in the process
by which scientific advice is incorporated into policy development?
No, the process is very opaque. The ways in
which scientific advice is incorporated into policy development
remain a mystery to those outside Central Government.
Is publicly-funded research informing policy development
If this is so, information about the process
is not easily accessed.
Is scientific advice being communicated effectively
to the public?
No. It is difficult to distinguish between scientific
advice and hype. There is huge difficulty in accessing authoritative,
accurate, information, and being sure that it is up to date. The
result of this is a confused situation where public understanding
of the science and technology is being led by the news media that
tend to dwell on some possible outcomes.
3.5 Evaluation and follow-up
Are peer review and other quality assurance mechanisms
As stated above, peer engagement and review
outside central government is not working well, if at all. The
lack of external review also makes it difficult to believe that
internal quality control mechanisms are being properly applied.
What steps are taken to re-evaluate the evidence
base after the implementation of policy?
4. THE AUTHOR
The author of this response is Chair of the
Local Authority Smartcard standards e-Organisation and is an ICT
consultant with particular interest in the use of smart cards
in the public sector. He is responding on behalf of LASSeO.