The BBC reports that Prime Minister Brown has been forced to personally apologise for the data breach.
US readers will of course be puzzled by the spectacle of the top politician being held accountable for the actions of his own administration but this is entirely normal and a routine event in British Parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister answers questions for half an hour every week. Preparing for PMQs typically takes about half a day, a significant investment.
Commentary on the breach strongly suggests that it might bring about the end of the national ID cards scheme. The Tories have a major opportunity here:
1) The National ID card scheme is already very unpopular.
The idea of an identity card is contrary to the British view of Britishness. It is the symbol of an authoritarian state on the Napoleonic model that the British fought major wars to reject.
2) HMG has suffered a long series of IT procurement disasters.
The procurement process has been entirely captured by the major IT consulting firms and Labour have proved unable to see the cause of the problem, let alone remedy it.
3) The technical architecture for the National ID card does not represent state of the art.
One reason for the huge cost or the ID card system is that like Herod in times past, HMG is going to require every citizen to be authenticated in accordance with the same set of security procedures regardless of whether they are going to claim benefits or require services that would make a high degree of authentication necessary.
4) The costs are now, the benefits far in the future
Like the millenium dome, the National ID card scheme requires a massive up front capital investment which can only be recaptured if highly optimistic forecasts hold. The National ID card scheme has never established a strong base of support within the Labour party, let alone the opposition.
5) There are other options for achieving the same ends
Part of the problem with the National ID card scheme is that it is an end in itself and the proponents have never managed to explain what the objectives actually are. The only measurable goals set out are reducing benefits fraud and reducing bank fraud.
- It is not necessary to register the entire population to control benefits fraud. The best way to reduce bank fraud is to improve the security of banking technology.
- Chip and PIN has been vastly more effective at eliminating fraud due to forged cards than the National ID card could be.
6) George Brown would likely appreciate the excuse.
The Tories should attck on ID cards because they are probably pushisn at an open door. Brown would no doubt prefer to avoid a political defeat but he will probably accept a defeat rather than have the albatross of Blair's ID card scheme strung round his neck. This data breach provides Brown with an ideal pretext for re-examining the scheme. At the very least this allows any final decision on the future of the scheme to be pushed out beyond the next election.
A commission to examine the security of the proposed National ID cards scheme would meet everyone's political needs.