[Dave Birch] In a meeting a couple of days ago, I was asked to explain the key purpose of the U.K. national identity card scheme. I wasn’t entirely sure, so I thought I would have a google around. PA Consulting, who were the Development Partners to the Home Office for the identity card scheme, should know and they say that the scheme is about reducing crime…

The biographic information recorded on the NIR is limited by law to basic identity information such as name, address, gender and date of birth. However, crucially, any attempt to steal an identity would need to be backed up by a matching identity card with associated biometric information (eg, fingerprints).

[From PA Consulting Group – 2007 – National identity scheme is about reducing crime]

This is correct, although the

Information that may be recorded in Register

[From Identity Cards Bill]

about a person actually includes his full name; other names by which he is or has been known; his date of birth; his place of birth; his gender; the address of his principal place of residence in the United Kingdom; the address of every other place in the United Kingdom where he has a place of residence; a photograph of his head and shoulders; his signature; his fingerprints; other biometric information about him; his nationality; his entitlement to remain in the United Kingdom; where that entitlement derives from a grant of leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, the terms and conditions of that leave; his National Identity Registration Number; the number of any ID card issued to him; any national insurance number allocated to him; the number of any immigration document relating to him; the number of any United Kingdom passport that has been issued to him; the number of any passport issued to him by or on behalf of the authorities of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom or by or on behalf of an international organisation; the number of any document that can be used by him (in some or all circumstances) instead of a passport; the number of any identity card issued to him by the authorities of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom; any reference number allocated to him by the Secretary of State in connection with an application made by him for permission to enter or to remain in the United Kingdom; the number of any work permit relating to him; any driver number given to him by a driving licence; the number of any designated document which is held by him and is a document the number of which does not fall within any of the preceding sub-paragraphs; the date of expiry or period of validity of a document the number of which is recorded by virtue of this paragraph; particulars of changes affecting information in the register and of changes made to his entry in the Register; his date of death; the date of every application for registration made by him; the date of every application by him for a modification of the contents of his entry; the date of every application by him confirming the contents of his entry (with or without changes); the reason for any omission from the information recorded in his entry; particulars (in addition to its number) of every ID card issued to him; particulars of every person who has countersigned an application by him for an ID card or a designated document, so far as those particulars were included on the application; particulars of every notification given by him for the purposes of (lost, stolen and damaged ID cards etc.); particulars of every requirement by the Secretary of State for the individual to surrender an ID card issued to him; the information provided in connection with every application by him to be entered in the Register, for a modification of the contents of his entry or for the issue of an ID card; the information provided in connection with every application by him confirming his entry in the Register (with or without changes); particulars of the steps taken, in connection with an application, for identifying the applicant or for verifying the information provided in connection with the application; particulars of any other steps taken or information obtained for ensuring that there is a complete, up-to-date and accurate entry about that individual in the Register; a personal identification number to be used for facilitating the making of applications for information recorded in his entry, and for facilitating the provision of the information; a password or other code to be used for that purpose or particulars of a method of generating such a password or code; questions and answers to be used for identifying a person seeking to make such an application or to apply for or to make a modification of that entry; particulars of every occasion on which information contained in the individual’s entry has been provided to a person; particulars of every person to whom such information has been provided on such an occasion; other particulars, in relation to each such occasion, of the provision of the information.

I’d lay a pound to a penny that the introduction of the scheme will instantaneously cause a jump in crime, not a reduction, as confused pensioners in the Shetland Islands get taken to court and fined a grand for not registering a change of address on the register. But anyway, let’s take this at face value. The question I want to ask is: is the “identity scheme is about reducing crime” specific enough a benefit to be a “killer application” for ID cards that will shift public opinion substantially in their favour following the Home Secretary’s new timetable for their introduction. I don’t think it is.

The U.K. identity card lacks a clear “killer application” that the public, or indeed experts, can understand and I just don’t think that the rather diffuse claim that it will reduce crime is good enough. If the government wants to get buy-in, it has to do better in coming up with reasons to have card that have some vision, some inspiration. Alternatively, make sure that there is an overwhelming benefit to individuals.

The contrast with the mooted UK card is stark. Hong Kong offered residents a single obvious personal benefit – time saved at immigration control. The UK card has no such clarity.

[From UK has lessons to learn from Hong Kong on ID cards | 6 Feb 2008 | ComputerWeekly.com]

The U.K. does indeed have lessons to learn from Hong Kong on ID cards. Skipping over the obvious one — hire Consult Hyperion to do requirements capture and functional specifications if you want an award-winning scheme on time and budget — there are a couple not mentioned in this article (which is, incidentally, wrong: the Hong Kong cards are not in the slightest degree “voluntary”). One that I often stress is symmetry: the “system” can allow individuals to check the identity of officials as well as allowing officials to check the identity of individuals: in the same way that a policeman can use his machine to check your ID card, you can use the machine to check his ID card.

I’ve always thought that a clear, easily expressed vision for the national identity card will help the scheme no end. The purpose of the identity card should be to deliver convenient privacy to individuals: once again, the register is for security, the card is for privacy.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. Reading the Independent today an interesting article on new generation dynamic digital advertising hordings and Terminal 5 caught my eye…and here is the link. The board above the security / passport area will be the most expensive to rent because it’s the one people are forced to look at the most whilst bored in the ever increasing queues. Following this rationale of BAA and the government extracting ever more money from us this is now the perfect reason why they should issue ID cards with lots of biometric features. As Dave has proved in several posts before, the UK electronic lines are slower than the paper ones. Slower throughput means more time staring at the adverts, means more revenue….now if we can add an NFC chip as well then the corporate giant mobile operators may also be happy to back the government….and who knows the extra revenue gained might reduce the cost of the ID card scheme by about .0001%!

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