Thursday, November 16, 2006

Alternatives to ID cards, a £5.4 billion shopping list

Recently, on the Guardian CiF, someone suggested to me that the cost of the ID cards scheme would be better spend on improving the existing resouces available to the police and security services. I was going to post suggesting alternatives, but I considered it a little pointless before I'd investigated the actual benefits the ID card is supposed to provide.

My gut feeling suggests that with the benefits of ID cards are numerous and varied, and therefore hard to pin down to single succinct answer.

To answer my critic on CiF, I feel it should be made clear the benefits of IT in other areas, one man with a word processor is far more productive than one man with a typewriter. If the ID card scheme does everything the government says it will, it could offer benefits of a similar magnitude.

Next post Citizens, I'll start investigating the benefits.

1 comment:

Gordon Armitage said...

If you consider the government's activities to be a business - and many who want to see improvements in the efficiency of government often compare government with business - then it's very obvious that IT is not used to anywhere near it's full potential. So let's do a cost/benefit analysis.

We do know that criminals use multiple IDs. The government does not know the extent of illegal immigration because it has no good means of checking. It does not know the movements of suspects in and out of the country when investigating serious crimes. This means it does not know the cost to the security services of working without reliable identity information. We do know it would make their lives easier, and therefore more efficient.

We don't know the cost and inconvenience to the public of meeting current ID obligations. We do not know the extent and cost to the public of dealing with cases where their identity has been 'stolen' and crimes committed.

We don't know the extent and cost of health tourism. We don't know the extent of Car Tax avoidance, although we do have a decent estimate of motor insurance avoidance and its cost to motorists (2 million? uninsured vehicles.)

The US insists on biometric passports. There is an International Standard for such passports. Much as we don't like being imposed upon by the US, lots of our citizens want to go to the US. The government must therefore provide such passports.

All current systems for checking ID both in the public and private sectors are different and very defective. It is easy for criminals to produce fake documents. They use computers these days. The country needs bring itself up to date. All government systems could do with improvement. Tackling them piecemeal will be wasteful. The Sunday Times will soon be asking questions such as 'how many civil servants does it take to check an ID?'

What we need is joined up government and a more reliable way for everyone to verify ID.
Unfortunately, we cannot estimate the value of the benefits this will bring with any degree of accuracy. In that regard, we are in the same position as other businesses who make important strategic changes to their modus operandi.