Matthew Tempest and agencies
Wednesday May 25, 2005

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1491895,00.html

The price of an identity card will be higher than previously thought at £93, the Home Office admitted today, as it published a new bill to introduce the controversial scheme.
It also revealed that the biometric technology due to underpin the system was far from failsafe, with even the best form of identification – iris scans – only scoring a 96% success rate.

In documents accompanying the bill, the Home Office admitted that the cost to an individual of the card had risen to £93, as opposed to its previous estimate of £88.

The average annual running cost for issuing the controversial cards alongside passports was put at £584m.
At prime minister’s questions today, Tony Blair challenged the Conservatives to back the scheme, which will initially be voluntary, as it shaped up to be one of the key debates of the new parliament.

The Tories currently oppose the bill, as do the Liberal Democrats and a small minority of Labour backbenchers.

The reintroduction of the bill – which was a central plank of Labour’s manifesto – was greeted by dismay from civil liberty campaigners, but received a guarded welcome from employers.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “The horrendous economic costs of the ID card scheme are clear, the social costs will be with us for decades.

“Parliament must reject this rehashed ID card Bill, a scheme more about political machismo than rational policy.”

John Cridland, the deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, gave it cautious backing, but said: “Companies want more information on the national identity registry and serious questions remain unanswered.

“What types of data will be stored? How will the government assure accuracy and integrity?”

The results of the pilot project testing the technology on 10,000 volunteers showed it took an average of just under eight minutes per person to be scanned, but a marked range in the success rates of the various identification techniques.

The facial verification system, which measures the distance between a person’s features, was the least successful technology.

Success rates were 69% for a representative sample of 2,000 people and 48% in a sample of 750 disabled people. Fingerprint verification was successful in 81% of the representative sample and 80% among the disabled group. Iris verification was a success in 96% overall and 91% among the disabled volunteers, the results showed.

Home Office minister Tony McNulty acknowledged there would be some “teething problems” with the biometric cards.

But he told the BBC: “I would hope, and I think we will, secure the bill.” He said it was “in essence” the same bill as the one introduced into the last parliament.

Mr McNulty refused to comment on the overall costs, saying: “The more we release about the details of the set-up costs the more the entire procurement process can be couched in terms far more favourable to those doing the bidding.”

One of the top civil servants on the ID cards project, Stephen Harrison, told the BBC: “We are following the best practice of not publishing our best estimate of the set-up costs.

“For reasons of commercial sensitivity we think it is inappropriate to publish them at this stage.”

Only 19 Labour rebels voted against ID cards last time round, although the No2ID campaign hopes that up to 80 could be persuaded to vote against it this time.

Whether that will overturn Labour’s new 67-seat majority will depend on whether the Tories stick to their line of opposing the measures. The Conservative leader, Michael Howard, is personally in favour of ID cards, having considered introducing them himself as home secretary in the 1990s, while shadow home secretary David Davis is against.

Mr Davis has written to the Home Office setting out a series of objections on the grounds of cost and technology, and challenging Mr Clarke to prove the case for ID cards.

The Liberal Democrats are opposed on both principle and cost grounds, as is the Scottish National party.

Originally the Home Office told the home affairs select committee the cost of introduction would be between £1.3bn and £3.1bn. Recent estimates range up to £5bn, and the government has a poor track record in major IT investments, such as the child support agency, the Swanick air traffic control centre and the criminal records bureau.

Wartime identity papers in Britain were abolished in 1953. The current scheme would be phased in from 2007-08 and though they will initially be voluntary the Home Office hopes to later persuade parliament to make them compulsory – possibly from as early as 2010.

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