Drop this costly ID scheme
Sunday January 15, 2006
The government's decision to push on with its plans for ID cards in the face of overwhelming opposition becomes increasingly perplexing. Tomorrow peers will attempt to amend the bill to ensure that the phenomenal costs of the scheme are independently audited and understood. True, this is a government which takes pride in being stubborn, but its undiminished appetite for a national register is curious. At a time when all departments are tightening their belts, an unpopular project which, by the government's admission, will cost at least £5.8bn over its first 10 years seems a candidate for the chop. Factor in concerns from the London School of Economics, that costs will run much higher - and an egregious history of public-sector IT projects running vastly over budget - and the determination to go ahead is unfathomable.
The government claims that imminent changes to the passport system, foisted on the UK by Europe, make the case for ID cards convincing. This is not so. Yes, there is a need to make the new generation of passports incorporate biometric technology such as fingerprints or iris scans. But this does not justify making it mandatory for everyone to possess a piece of plastic with so many other biometric components. As for ID cards being needed to combat social ills, from terrorism to identity fraud, there is a stronger case that directly targeting resources at al-Qaeda or internet hackers would yield better results.
The inescapable conclusion is that the government has been seduced into championing ID cards by the hundreds of companies now bidding for a slice of the lucrative pie. It is we who will ultimately pay. For whenever a company accesses the register to check someone's details, the costs will inevitably be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices. Sceptics in Westminster are right to fear that the scheme could become Labour's poll tax.