Independent review wants free ID cards, minimal biometrics

I’m surprised how little coverage I’ve seen of the long-awaited report by Sir James Crosby (ex boss of Halifax/HBOS) into ‘Challenges and opportunities in identity cards assurance’, published last week by the Treasury. (See press release, full doc as PDF.) It makes a number of interesting proposals, none of which merited a specific mention in the press release.
Absolutely correctly, Sir James says the potential of any such scheme ‘lies in the extent to which it is created by consumers for consumers.’ He points to a ‘fundamental’ distinction between ‘identity management’, where systems are built for the benefit of the database manager (ie government, in this case); and ‘identity assurance’, which ‘meets an important consumer need without necessarily providing any spin-off benefits to the owner of any database’.
The national security aspect becomes a pleasant side-effect. As he rightly notes, ‘a consumer-led universal scheme would better deliver on national security goals than any scheme with its origins in security and data sharing.’
Effectively, he calls for a ‘Chip and PIN’ card with a photograph on it: three independent factors – something you have, something you know, and something you are’. ‘It is the combination of such independent factors, rather than their technological complexity and individual strength,’ he writes, ‘which largely determines the resilience of the verification process.’ Well, it’s certainly got simplicity in its favour.
He says explicitly that ‘full biometric images (other than photographs) should not be kept‘; that the scheme should be operated independently of Government; and that it should be provided free of charge. But no matter how welcome and compelling his recommendations might be, there’s little sign of the Home Office swaying.
If you’ve got any interest in this subject, I urge you to read (at least) the executive summary of the Crosby report. It’s the most articulate and balanced review of the subject that I’ve yet seen. And it’s a subject we all need to care about. Nothing right now cuts as deeply to the heart of civil engagement – both in terms of what it is, and how it gets rolled out. And the signs aren’t yet good.