Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1160-1179)|
MP, AND MR
14 JUNE 2006
Q1160 Mr Newmark: Is that an aspiration
or is that real timing?
Joan Ryan: That is a strong desire
that we are working towards. As for the building blocks I have
spoken about, I was watching ID cards being issued yesterday at
Lunar House in Croydon. The ARC card for asylum seekers is, in
effect, an ID card. You will know that from August every passport
issued will be a biometric passport. All these building blocks
are being put in place. We dealt with the secondary legislation
on UK visas last week. By end 2007/early 2008, all UK visas will
be biometric. That is a timetable and we are moving towards it,
but that is not to say that I can give you a guarantee that the
procurement process will have happened in a particular way.
Q1161 Chairman: To be fair, Joan,
your predecessor did not give us a specific date either. We will
not follow up on that. Risk is something on which we have not
had a clear answer from you. Your predecessor appeared to be content
to allow us to view the risk register. Why have you said no?
Joan Ryan: I hope I explained
in my letter that there are potential confidentiality issues around
parts of the risk register and obviously, at the point we go into
procurement, this is crucial. Therefore, I took the decision that
this could pose a difficulty.
Q1162 Chairman: What changed between
your predecessor and you? Why am I not trusted to look at parts
of the register?
Joan Ryan: Also, much of the register
is outside the scope of this investigation. It is not a question
of trust between myself and you, Chairman. I have said that I
would be very happy, if you want to make a specific request, to
do all that I can to meet that request and enable you to see those
parts of the risk register within your specific request as it
relates to the scope of this investigation and the work of the
Q1163 Chairman: This inquiry is actually
dealing with scientific evidence and risk. Particularly for those
bits of the register that relate to science and technology underpinning
the scheme, it would be very useful if in fact as a committee
I can report back that we have actually seen the register and
seen those elements of it and can say that that is happening.
Joan Ryan: I appreciate the point
you are making and I would say that the offer I have made was
very genuine. If you come back with specifics, then I will do
all I can to accommodate that request. I understand that your
desire is genuine and obviously the findings and the outcomes
of the committee are helpful to us.
Q1164 Chairman: Of course they are
and so I will be able to look at those elements of the register
which refer specifically to the science and technology underpinning
the scheme on a confidential basis?
Joan Ryan: I would ask the honourable
gentleman, the Chairman, to respond to the offer made in my letter.
Q1165 Chairman: Why can you not just
Joan Ryan: I would like you to
write to me with a specific request. It is important, with my
responsibilities as an Under-Secretary of State, to consider carefully,
particularly from a select committee, the requests that are made
to me. I would like to give that consideration to your specific
request. I can assure you that I will do that in good faith.
Q1166 Chairman: I find that very
disappointing, if I might say so. One of the purposes of a select
committee, particularly on an inquiry like this, is in fact to
be able to have a trust between a minister and the committee.
The idea that we cannot see and I cannot see elements of the register
without going through a long process with you I think is disappointing,
but there is no point in moving that on.
Joan Ryan: I am not saying you
cannot, and I do hope that you will not be disappointed and that
that trust will exist and does exist between us.
Q1167 Mr Newmark: Given that the
Home Office has said that trials will provide vital new information,
why is there at least a perception that this has been left so
late? Is this not just increasing the risk of problems at a later
Joan Ryan: That presupposes that
no trialling has occurred, and I would not say that that was the
case. First of all, there was some very important case work done
early on in 2004 on the biometrics and technology options. There
has been trialling since then. I would point to IDENT 1, which
I think all are agreed has been a very successful procurement
and build operation, and also obviously the IAFS immigration and
asylum fingerprint system. The fact is that these are new, up
and coming and existing programmes as IAFS is going to move into
IAFS Plus to accommodate the UK visas and biometric resident's
permit. They give us a huge amount of information and they are
in effect trialling. However, that can only happen within the
procurement phase because we want to trial what is being developed.
We are able to do that in that first phase at the private sector's
risk, which I think is a very good option for Government in procurement.
Following that first phase, we will then, once we have our private
sector partner and as the technology and the register are built,
trial. For a system that will run for some 60 million entrants,
we think somewhere around the first 2 million people registered
into it will in fact mean very large-scale trialling. That is
another reason why we are taking it a step at a time.
Q1168 Mr Newmark: According to the
evidence we received on 8 May, there is not going to be that sort
of trialling of specific technical issues.
Joan Ryan: We have used evidence
from the US National Institute of Science and Technology that
does world class biometrics testing.
Q1169 Mr Newmark: Let us move on.
One of my concerns is about what happens if the technology actually
does not meet up with the expectations in these live enrolment
trials. Just to give you an example, and I am sure you have heard
this two or three times at least, in women in terms of iris recognition
there are changes at various times of the month.
Joan Ryan: No, there are not.
The retina might change but the iris does not. I think we have
Chairman: We have sorted that out.
Q1170 Mr Newmark: That was one of
the things they were not confident about when we went to the States.
Joan Ryan: Brian raised it with
me in Home Office orals. I would understand any concern like that.
I am very pleased it was raised with me.
Q1171 Mr Newmark: I will come back
to a more generic statement. What happens if the technology does
not meet expectations during live enrolment trials?
Joan Ryan: You can see from what
I have been able to say when you read the answer about irises
that we are alive to these issues and these risks, and we are
alive to them because of the work that we are doing looking at
the deployment of existing technology and working with using evidence
from bodies like NIST. I think that is a very important part of
our trialling. Clearly, as I have said, we would build on that.
Q1172 Mr Newmark: By definition,
you would not be trialling if you had total confidence in the
Joan Ryan: I think it is best
and good practice to trial and we would be trialling. We are confident
that we will achieve procurement to deliver a technology that
will deliver the programme, but I think your committee would rightly
ask me what I thought I was doing if I was not insisting that
there was trialling through the process. If I did not do that,
you might be worried.
Q1173 Mr Newmark: Adam has been in
high tech for 15 years and I have been in business for 20 years.
Things never run smoothly and that is why I am curious. Have you
any contingency plans in case there are problems during procurement?
Joan Ryan: As we are not tied
to this exact timetable, that of itself is a contingency because
if there are issues, then there is time to resolve issues. That
of itself is a contingency. I think the real contingency is the
fact that we are building gradually and it is incremental. That
is because of the lessons we have learnt. I would say something
else, and perhaps it comes back to the three risks that Adam mentioned,
and add a fourth. If we look at what happened perhaps with the
passport service, which is now an excellent service and one of
our great successes and deserves to receive an accolade for that,
as you all know, it had a difficult period, shall we say. That
was not to do with the technology; that was to do with people
issuesstaff, training and enrolment. That is the fourth
risk I would identify and it is another area we will be doing
a great deal of work on. We are doing some of that work now through
trialling, i.e. rolling out the biometrics passport and seeking
to go to authentication by interview because it is not just about
biometrics, you understand, establishing identity and issuing
a card; it is also about a biographical footprint. That work is
already going on as well.
Q1174 Dr Harris: To what extent is
the scheme governed by politically imposed deadlines? Are you
alive to the fact that there is a tension between the need to
deal with pesky Opposition politicians who say, "No, this
will be delivered" and scientific advice saying, "Wait
a minute. There needs to be scope for wriggle room if problems
emerge"? How do you balance that?
Joan Ryan: I hope what I have
already said about the timetable you will find reassuring. I do
not feel I am running this according to some political deadline.
We have the legislation. We are moving to procurement. We are
seeking to deliver, but I am not pressured by any external deadline
outside that programme.
Chairman: That is good to hear.
Q1175 Dr Harris: If scientific advice
said that the planned timescale, even if it is informal, is not
reasonable because of difficulties, then that would count a lot.
Do you fear that there is a culture that says that because this
has become so political, it has to be delivered and the scientists
will just have to get on with it?
Joan Ryan: I would like to go
back to an earlier answer when I said there is another issue and
that is about our responsibility to the public and the issue of
trust. I do not think anything can be more important than getting
it right. That would be my answer. I hope we can do that in a
timely fashion, meeting a reasonable timescale, but nothing is
more important than getting it right. If scientific evidence comes
forward that tells us there is an issue, it will depend on the
evidence. We will have to have that evidence assessed. I have
no doubt we will be discussing it here. It would depend on what
the issue is. I cannot comment on a hypothetical problem. I am
not anticipating something major that would completely delay or
derail the programme. I would like to reassure the committee that
nothing is more important than getting this right.
Q1176 Margaret Moran: We have been
told by the Government that facial recognition will be effective
in protection and prevention of fraud as a central plank of what
we are talking about here. Yet, we have received evidence from
Professor Angela Sasse to say that 90% of benefit fraud is committed
by people who do not lie about their identity. What specific evidence
do you have on the extent to which fraud is based on lies about
identity? Could you also tell us how the ID card project will
guard against this?
Joan Ryan: I think it is the case
that the majority of benefit fraud is not perpetrated at present
by people who are lying about their identity, as far as I am aware.
Given your question, I will ensure that I look at specific evidence.
That is my understanding. We would say that where there is a level
of benefit fraud which relates to identity, then clearly it is
important that that is tackled. Clearly, in that case identity
cards will help. As I mentioned, there is the issuing system in
the Hong Kong system. These technologies are developing. The way
in which people access services and markets is changing. Much
of it is internet-driven. We know that the ways in which people
and all kinds of issues and stealing other people's identities,
is on the increase. We know that these measures will help. I cannot
put figures on that here and now for Margaret but I will of course
look more carefully at that. I think what you say about benefit
fraud is in fact correct.
Q1177 Margaret Moran: You referred
to yourself earlier as a social scientist. We have heard from
the Home Office that social science is being used to validate
assumptions and that where that research rejects a current assumption,
a change is made. Could you give us a specific example of where
that has been the case, where social science has influenced a
change of direction in a project?
Joan Ryan: I can say that we have
undertaken nine separate pieces of social science research, and
so we do think this is very important. One of the pieces of research
is looking into people with special needs issues. We have undertaken
16 focus group discussions. Certainly, from all that we have learnt
from that, it is not so much that we make an assumption and then
change it; it is that we are learning from that kind of work and
from the other social science I have mentioned done with the public.
We are learning from them what the issues for them will be. I
mentioned special needs in particular because you will know from
the UK Passport Service that we have done trialling and we have
found that elderly, people with various disabilities and some
minority ethnic groups had more difficulty enrolling than others.
That was not necessarily to do with technology.
Q1178 Chairman: Have you changed
the system as a result of this?
Joan Ryan: It is informing the
way in which we are enrolling people and the way in which we are
enrolling them for a biometric passport. That will inform how
we are going to enrol obviously for an ID card because a passport
is the designated document. I am struggling to think of specific
changes that we have made. We know that there are issues for people
about how easy it is, given various disabilities, for them to
deliver their fingerprints, whereas facial recognition is much
Q1179 Chairman: Would it be possible
for you to look at that and perhaps let us have in writing some
ideas on the way you conduct the social science research and the
way it has affected the programme is moved on?
Joan Ryan: I would be delighted
to do that. As I say, there has been a lot of work done there.
I would appreciate giving the committee more detail on that.