‘Secret’ ID card reviews may become public

By Tony Collins |

The Office of Government Commerce is seriously considering publishing two early Gateway reviews on ID cards – after four years of trying to stop their publication under the Freedom of Information Act.

Computer Weekly has learned that the Identity and Passport Service, which runs the ID cards scheme, has raised no objection to the two Gateway reviews being published.

The OGC must by law make a decision on whether to publish within the next week. It has never before published a Gateway Review, although it has overseen thousands of them. Gateway reviewers shred all copies of the reviews, leaving only two copies, one for the OGC and the other for the project or programme’s senior responsible owner.

One reason the Identity and Passport Service has not objected is that it considers the two reviews in question to be of little relevance today – one was carried out in 2003, the other in 2004, before the government published the draft Identity Cards Bill.

But the final decision will be taken by the OGC, which is an independent office of the Treasury.

Gateway reviews are independent checks on risky projects and programmes at various stages. The two Gateway reviews on ID cards in question assessed their feasibility and it is thought they raised some questions. But the government has repeatedly made it clear that the two reviews contained no particularly sharp criticism.

A request for them to be published was made in 2005. The Information Commissioner ruled that they should be published, as did the Information Tribunal – twice. But the OGC has always appealed.

Its legal costs on the case so far have been at least £140,000 – which excludes the costs to the taxpayer of the time spent by the Information Commissioner’s Office in contesting the OGC’s appeals.

On 19 February 2009 the Information Tribunal gave the OGC 28 days to publish – but the clock did not start ticking until the OGC had received the tribunal’s ruling in the post.

One of the OGC’s concerns in publishing the reviews is that the Information Commissioner’s Office has put on hold some other FOI requests for gateway reviews to be published, while the OGC decides over the ID cards reviews.

Although every FOI request is considered on its merits, a decision by the OGC to publish may make it harder for its lawyers to argue in future that other Gateway reviews should remain secret.

It is ironic that the board of the Identity and Passport Service has raised no objections to the two early reviews on ID cards being published – the IPS’s officials appeared before the Information Tribunal to support the OGC’s arguments that the reviews should not be published.

ID cards began to be issued to foreign nationals in November 2008 and some will be issued to British citizens this year.

A spokesman for the OGC said that the latest ruling of the Information Tribunal is being considered before any decision on whether to publish is taken.