Monday, July 10, 2006

ID Cards: Dying in the water?

This post comes to you without a trace of "I told you so". No, really. Yesterday the Times published some leaked e-mails from last month between 2 senior officials involved producing in the ID register. The Times has its own analysis, as does The Register and Spyblog.

All of which point to the troubles that the scheme is already in a fair bit of trouble. From my experience on flailing IT projects, if a scheme is having difficulties at this point, with deadlines looming relatively closely, then there are 2 ways things can go:

1. The "sensible" ("technically experienced") option: Bite the bullet, come clean, reconsider the problems being faced and what reality preaches. Use the lessons learnt to re-plan and re-schedule.

2. The "CYA" ("politically experienced") option: Hide the fact that you're sweating it a bit. Throw more people at it and come up with some sloppy contingency plans (not out of lack of ability - sloppy is merely the best you can come up with in the situation) and keep making excuses.

Peter Smith's claims that "It was a Mr Blair who wanted the 'early variant' card. Not my idea..." point very much to the second tactic currently.

Unfortunately, the real suckers that can't afford, or aren't in a position to C their As are the people in the database, and subject to its binary rule. As more sticky tape gets applied to the project in order to prevent the next election becoming (more of) a disaster, more and more "time-saving" hacks will creep in until the integrity of the system (you know, that thing which keeps everyone's identity in, i.e. who they are) is less than acceptable - however, as reputations and jobs are, by that point, so intrinsically wrapped up in the project - more so than the livelihoods of the people being stored in it - there will be very little enthusiasm for either scrapping it or replacing it.

This is how white elephants come about, like the birth of a star. Implementation suffers mainly because planning is crap. Isn't it a wonderful feeling to be present at its conception? As the next generation are shuffled into line to submit themselves to a system which lets the government do what it needs, but that suffers the odd (e.g. monthly) security scandal, won't it be great to think back to this day and know why those problems exist?

This post is deliberately ambiguous over whether the solution is better project management, or scrapping the ID scheme entirely. The point is that the stage we're at is halfway between these two, and we are ending up with the worst of both worlds - an expensive, useless lump of equipment that protects us neither from the government nor from criminals. Datamining, the rule of law, and the ubiquity of an information society mean that any government is now in a very real position to monitor us whatever happens, even without an ID scheme (which is just the icing...)

At least Blair's name is getting permanently attached to this blunder.

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