It would be easy to be cynical and suggest the government engaged in a bit of press control with the timing of the publication of Sir James Crosby’s report on UK identity management last week.
On the afternoon that home secretary Jacqui Smith announced the latest changes to ID cards, the Treasury-commissioned Crosby study was also quietly released after months of delays — Computing was leaked details of its contents as long ago as last August — see www.computing.co.uk/2197249.
Smith said she was “indebted” to Crosby, but ignored most of his recommendations — not least the widely publicised suggestion that ID cards should be free.
But a detailed look at the Crosby report — which was initiated by Gordon Brown when he was chancellor — reveals a more coherent, workable, and less costly alternative to the increasingly ham-fisted and ever-changing plans for ID cards.
The former HBOS chief executive recommends a system delivered by the private sector through trusted institutions such as banks. The government has co-opted at least part of this, in that companies will be asked to bid to provide biometric enrolment services, but the national identity register remains a Whitehall resource.
Under Crosby, you choose which trusted organisation looks after your biometrics. Far less Big Brother.
His proposal is for a consumer-led process that offers citizens who are increasingly worried about identity theft a secure way to prove who they are, with a commercial incentive for the banks. And of course, public services can piggyback the scheme. Compared to the government’s attempts, it appears to make much more sense.
There is no doubt that in future we will need some form of standardised electronic personal identity management system to safeguard our details and our online — and physical — transactions.
But the government’s lacklustre attempts to sell ID cards to a sceptical public are doing more to threaten this goal than to promote it. The expertise of the private sector needs to be given more weight in the identity management debate.