Friday 26 October 2012

Identity assurance. Only the future is certain – doom 2 (corrected)

Why didn't the Government Digital Service
make its planned 22 October 2012 announcement about IdA?
Are the "identity providers", sensibly, having second thoughts?

Wednesday 20 April 2011, seven months after his previous meeting, and DMossEsq finds himself at another one to discuss identity assurance (IdA or IDA).

In between whiles, Martha Lane Fox has sent her famous letter to Francis Maude advocating the MLF Prerogative, an amendment to the British Constitution whereby whoever is in charge of GOV.UK will have the power of veto over government policy and will be able to enforce that power using SWAT teams with sharp teeth.

Something of that same aggression has transmitted itself to the Treasury room in which we meet. The testosterone level is oppressive. A roomful of salesmen who were promised no money last September. And yet here they are again. Wolves, howling, scenting money, leaking from a wounded government.

And here, again, the Identity & Passport Service aren't. According to DMossesq's contemporaneous notes:
To someone's dyspeptic eye, IDA looks like a non-starter, another elaborate and expensive plan which turns out to be fantasy, doomed to failure when it confronts reality. The timetable for IDA was presented and described as not over-ambitious. That is perfectly accurate. The timetable is not over-ambitious. It looks more like the psychedelic product of a prolonged session on hallucinogenic drugs. Far from being merely over-ambitious, it is quite simply impossible.

Take for example the claim that by 2014 IDA will be able to support a central N electoral registration application ... Someone asked about that and was told that protocol dictates that, in the run-up to imminent local elections, that matter can't be commented on by the civil service.

Someone not me asked if the Identity & Passport Service are involved in IDA. No, came the reply, IPS are still "reeling" ... That someone may, like me, have thought hmmm, if there's going to be a central N electoral register, that sounds like a job for IPS's GRO (the General Register Office). If the Cabinet Office have their heart set on a central N electoral register, then they must prepare themselves to reel just as much as IPS, because it won't happen, not through IDA at least ...
The Cabinet Office have apparently talked Francis Maude into accepting IDA and G-Digital [digital by default] and G-Cloud. Billions of pounds will be spent. And wasted. Why? To what end? To allow people to communicate with the government digitally. Someone put his hand up and pointed out that we can already do that, through the Government Gateway.

Someone got the distinct impression that certain people wished that hadn't been mentioned ... The GG is old and uses proprietary components and it records too much personal data, we were told. Hmmm, those are insuperable problems. But only if you first decide that they are insuperable. The Cabinet Office and DWP want to kill off the GG, says a dyspeptic of someone's acquaintance, only because otherwise they don't get to play with cloud computing and a lot of shiny new Christmas present data centres.

Most public services are delivered by local authorities. Have they been involved in the design of IDA? No, there are too many of them, we were told. And anyway, they're autonomous, it was said. Like the devolved authorities. Is that a dutiful recognition of the reality of localism? Or maybe a supercilious assumption that the local and devolved authorities will do what they're jolly well told – it's hard to tell the difference. Someone's suspicion is that the move to IDA, G-Digital and G-Cloud is one great big strategy to ensure that Whitehall stays in control, it holds the reins in the centre, it ensures that localisation never happens. If the GG has to be sacrificed along the way, so be it. And if the taxpayer has to spend billions on new data centres, ditto.
It's no fun reeling. Five directors were kicked off the Board of IPS when they finally admitted the ID cards game was up. Sarah Rapson became Chief Executive and Registrar General for England and Wales:
  • Despite being Chief Executive of the Identity & Passport Service she is not invited to help with identity assurance.
  • Despite being the Registrar General, the proposed central N electoral registration will be nothing to do with her.
Obviously the best people leave. Quickly. But then who's left?

Left with "IPS" or "GDS" on their CV. Or an unexplained gap.

It's no fun for the suppliers either.

The biometrics suppliers, for example. They were going to make ID cards foolproof. They haven't been invited back for the identity assurance party. Just because their products don't work. It hardly seems fair.

"1677" it says over the door of each branch of Lloyds Bank. 335 years it's taken to build the brand and it would all go up in smoke overnight if the bank associates itself with IdA. RBS, the Royal Bank of Scotland, similarly. The association would be all downside for Vodafone as well. And any other bank. And any other telco. Or retailer. What would Tesco have to gain? Nothing. They could only lose. Ditto Sainsbury's and the others.

Remember what happened to IPS. And to the biometrics suppliers. And to PA Consulting – banned from government work along with other consultants by Francis Maude despite all PA's hard work helping Whitehall to waste hundreds of millions on ID cards and other projects.

If you're the Chairman or Chief Executive of Boots the chemists, say, and you sign up with GDS to become an "identity provider" – the name really ought to ring alarm bells – the equity analysts will take you apart, your shareholders will rebel and you'll never get another non-executive directorship. You'll be the man or woman who destroyed the Boots brand. Because if my Boots the chemists-issued electronic ID causes me to be defrauded, even if that's the result of Whitehall incompetence, I'm not just going to blame Whitehall, I'm going to blame Boots, too.

It's all risks for Boots and Tesco and Vodafone and Lloyds and no reward. An irrational bet. A reverse arbitrage. A guaranteed loss.

Why didn't the Government Digital Service make its planned 22 October 2012 announcement about IdA? Are the "identity providers", sensibly, having second thoughts?


N It transpires that there is no proposal to create a single, central electoral register and DMossEsq apologies for introducing this error. The government White Paper on Individual Electoral Registration explicitly states in the Foreword that:
No additional information will be placed in the electoral register and the register will continue to be created and held locally – there will be no new national dataase.

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