Cost of ID cards to soar above £5.5bn estimate

Warnings over use of untried technology as expert says 'government figures are a huge underestimate'
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The Independent Online

With the House of Lords debating the introduction of ID cards tomorrow, experts are warning the Home Office that the cost of introducing identity cards could soar above its £5.5bn estimate.

With the House of Lords debating the introduction of ID cards tomorrow, experts are warning the Home Office that the cost of introducing identity cards could soar above its £5.5bn estimate.

Paul Smee, chief executive of the Association for Payment Clearing Services (Apacs), said the introduction of ID cards during the next few years was a "challenge" that could affect the cost estimates. The banking trade body is responsible for the rollout of the £1.1bn chip and pin scheme for bank cards, and is helping the Home Office to introduce the ID project.

That identity cards will cost so much more than chip and pin is partly because the Government's scheme will use the biological uniqueness of every human, such as their iris, to identify the individual - a system called biometrics.

This data will then be stored on a card as well as at the planned National Identity Register, which could offer another 50 personal characteristics, such as address and national insurance number.

But unlike with the Government's plan for ID cards, Mr Smee said Apacs worked on chip and pin with people who had already tested the technology. He warned: "One challenge for the ID card project is working with biometric-based technology where the Home Office will be trailblazing this type of technology."

Angela Sasse, professor of human-centred technology at the department of computer science at University College London, and an expert on how ID cards are used, agreed. "Personally, I think the Government figures are a huge underestimate," she said.

"To get recognition systems to work to an acceptable standard - as in Sydney airport's face-recognition system for Quantas air crew - requires expensive technology and extra training. I am confident the current systems are not good enough, and that there should be a dedicated effort from a scientific committee to examine how the system would work, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee."

At the turn of the year, the Home Office published its latest Regulatory Impact Assessment for the ID Card Bill, which put the cost of a card and biometric passport at £85 - compared to the current cost of a passport of £42 and above its earlier estimate of £77.

For the next 10 years, the cost of issuing and verifying cards is estimated at £135m per year, while the UK Passport Service's annual operating bill is planned to rise to £415m by 2008-09.

A Home Office spokesman said these costings were "robust". He declined to comment on whether the scheme would be pulled if the cost went up again, although in its poll of UK nationals about ID cards, the Home Office found that cost was a significant factor in whether they would be accepted.

Peter Lilley, the Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Social Security - where he had tried to implement a similar card for those on benefits - said after researching the subject that he feared the present £5.5bn estimate could more than double. He added: "The pattern of governments introducing large technology projects is that they very nearly always cost more than expected."

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