Thursday, 18 April 2013

Joined up government – national identity register rejected, and will be compiled this summer

What was it Mr Maude said? Oh yes:
We want people to be able to interact with government online, for example, in applying for benefits or a disabled parking permit, in a way that is quick, easy and secure. To do this we need to give them a way of proving their identity online, but only if they choose to. This would be done without a national, central scheme.
That was back in April 2012 when he was angry with the Guardian for misrepresenting him:
This is not a question of increasing the volume of data-sharing that takes place across government, but ensuring an appropriate framework is in place so that government can deliver more effective, joined-up and personalised public services, through effective data-linking.
There it is. Government policy:
  • No single, central, national identity register.
  • No increase in data-sharing between government departments.
  • Effective data-linking, on the other hand, is a good thing because it will allow people to identify themselves on-line when transacting with the government.
Here we are now a year later and what do we find?

We find the Cabinet Office paper Simplifying the transition to Individual Electoral Registration (hat tip: Owen Boswarva).

Individual electoral registration is designed to make sure that the data held on the electoral register is accurate and up to date and it is designed to make sure that all eligible electors and only eligible electors are registered.

We've come across this before in Identity assurance – shall we vote on it?. Individual electoral registration is being championed by Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister. He wants to continue the practice of creating a single, national electoral/identity register:
13. ... The full register is already made available under current legislation to a number of government organisations for official purposes ... In addition the full register is also supplied to credit reference agencies ...
And he wants to tidy up the data on the register by sharing data between Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and DWP and other government departments. That is illegal according to the impact assessment report on individual electoral registration:
Key assumptions/sensitivities/risks: Data matching – national rollout would require primary legislation.
But he wants to proceed anyway and in this simplifying-the-transition document, the Cabinet Office say (para.3.3):
In summer 2013 every Local Authority in England, Wales and the Scottish Valuation Joint Boards will participate in a Confirmation Dry Run. This will provide the opportunity for each ERO to complete a fully IT enabled dry-run of the confirmation process and obtain indicative match results for their area. This information can then be used to assist in the planning and allocation of resources for the transition.
"Match results"? What's that? It involves comparing the electoral register with the Department for Work and Pensions national insurance number database and (para.2.5):
Where they had the capacity to do so, a number of pilot areas also opted to use locally held data sets (for example Council Tax data or Housing Benefit data) to conduct supplementary data matching.
and (para.3.3):
Comparisons of ward level match rates and data from the 2011 England and Wales Census provide further support ...
There has been no primary legislation to legalise this increased national data-sharing. It is proceeding against the law and against Mr Maude's stated policy. And it will produce a single, central database which, Mr Maude said last year, is anathema.

Who is responsible for testing data-matching for individual electoral registration?

You can bet that the Home Office's Identity & Passport Service (IPS) are involved. They hold all the passport data and their chief executive doubles as the Registrar General of England and Wales.

As it happens, you lose your bet (para.2.3). IPS are still persona non grata:
This process was carried out by the Government Digital Service (GDS) for the purposes of the pilot, using criteria developed by the Cabinet Office in conjunction with ...
What do you make of all that?

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