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Thursday, November 10, 2005 

ID cards savaged again.

Another day, another blow to Labour's "reform" agenda, this time on the wholly unnecessary and illiberal identity cards bill:

Fresh questions over the government's costings for the introduction of the national ID card scheme were raised yesterday by its own consultants who doubt that the plastic cards will last for 10 years.

The Home Office published only an extract from the KPMG study yesterday, which omitted any of the actual figures in the confidential report. The consultants raised fresh doubts over costings in three areas. These were:

· the 10-year lifespan of the cards: KPMG said information from suppliers was inconclusive on this point and therefore their durability was questionable. It suggested that the costs of replacing damaged cards as they wore out needed to be revised;

· lifespan of the biometric pods: the Home Office expects the advanced scanners to be used to take everybody's "biometric" - an electronic scan of their fingerprints, irises and facial images - to last five years. But KPMG said this appeared to be optimistic given their "very heavy use and the rate of technology advance", and a three-year life would be a better assumption, leading to higher initial costs;

· offices to house the national ID register staff: The Home Office needed to house the staff to set up the central computer database within two years but there were few suitable buildings on the market outside London and the south-east and it would take three years to build new offices. Extra costs would be involved in renting temporary office space.

The Home Office said card manufacturers believed it was possible to develop an ID card that lasted 10 years. Estimates for the programme's contingency levels would be updated early next year.

The Home Office minister stated that the study confirmed the majority of the cost assumptions surrounding the scheme, but the neglected to actually publish the evidence which the report supposedly has. I wonder why? The whole programme ignores the facts that iris recognition technology is at the moment nowhere near close to being ready for use for confirming identification. The cards may well not last 10 years; the machines which scan might not even last five; they need a building which currently doesn't exist; pensioners and the poor will still have the pleasure of having to pay £30 for a card, even at a discounted price. It'll likely be much higher for everyone else, and oh, let's not even get started on what plans the government has for the database all this information is going to be stored on.

The Liberal Democrats position at the election was that the money spent setting up the scheme should be spent on the police. Following yesterday's humiliation for Blair, he'd be wise to heed some advice and actually support the police by helping them to train new recruits properly, instead of banging up suspects for longer because of their incompetence.

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