Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More Government libels

Despite Simon Davies' Letter Before Action, government ministers are still libelling the LSE ID cards reports' authors. In a letter [1.2MB PDF] to his colleagues dated 7 February, Andy Burnham MP writes:

LSE report

It is our view that the LSE 'Identity Report' project on the Home Office identity card scheme set out deliberately to inflate its costs. The cost estimate of of £19 billion was based on a series of assumptions that do not correspond with the scheme we are proposing.

For example, the LSE report fails to explain why reputable research indicating 10-year reliability for biometrics should be discounted in favour of an assumption of a 5-year lifespan. If people have to be re-interviewed every 5 years, it adds enormous cost.

The LSE also allocated an inflated £1 billion marketing budget and assumed a much higher loss/theft rate than is the case for existing documents. In that way, the research generated headlines of the kind that read '£300 for an ID card' which some may say was the object of the exercise.

If you read the report yourself, you will see that there is no such marketing budget. You will also see the citations of research that shows 5 years is a much more realistic estimate for the useful lifetime of biometric smartcards (a view shared by the government's own consultants, KPMG) — and that this assumption is only included in the LSE "high-end" figures, not their low and mid-range estimates.

In the Lords' 3rd reading debate last night, the Earl of Northesk had more to say on this matter:

[N]ews also surfaced at the weekend that Simon Davies, who the Government have consistently and repeatedly vilified for his involvement with the LSE Identity Project, has written to the Prime Minister indicating his possible intention to pursue the matter in the courts should such defamation be repeated. As his letter states, the fact is that:

"More than sixty academics and a further forty external experts have contributed to the LSE work".

That being so, is the Minister prepared to take this opportunity on behalf of the Government to retract the outrageous slurs perpetrated against Mr Davies and offer an apology?

All in all, these matters are of a piece with the relentless litany of spin born of a misguided sense of political expediency, and are unsubstantiated by the available evidence that has spewed out of the Home Office over the past few years in respect of ID cards. I am sure that throughout our scrutiny of the Bill, all of us have had but one wish—namely, that the Government publish their own detailed—I stress, detailed—system architecture, cost-benefit analyses, project risk assumptions and so on. After all, to quote a phrase, "if they have nothing to hide then they have nothing to fear".

1 comment:

Andrew Watson said...

Is it my imagination, or is Mr Burnham deliberately confusing the useful life of a biometric measurement with the useful life of the ID card that stores it?

I seem to recall that both the independent LSE report and the government-commissioned KPMG report cast doubt on idea that an ID card being used day-in, day-out could survive for 10 years, regardless of what information is stored on it, biometric or not.

Mr Burnham can't have it both ways. Either his precious ID cards become an integral part of people's lives, are used every day, and wear out after 5 years, or they're of no use to the individual, live at the bottom of your sock drawer, and last for 10 years. Which is it?