The UK is to go ahead with a biometric-backed system of ID verification this year, whether or not the ID Cards Bill is passed by parliament. The 'Plan B', which is going ahead under the auspices of the Passport Office and which does not require parliamentary approval, was touched on by Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland during the recent House of Lords debate ID cards debate.
She described a new service, "passport validation, a commercial service that will come on stream in 2006," which is an aspect of the Passport Service's Personal Identification Project (PIP). The validation/verification service is referred to briefly in the organisation's 2005-10 business plan, and is itself a sort of prototype for the ID card scheme. It would be likely to have greater prominence if the ID card itself were to have a final unfortunate accident on its way to the statute book, but it's striking that most of the significant components of the ID card scheme already exist or are being built within the Passport Service, to the extent that one could easily view the Passport Service's planning as representing the key strategy, while the ID card scheme is more about extension, rationalisation and legal tidying up. So maybe not so much Plan B as Plan A.
This represents something of a problem to ID scheme opponents. Because the ID Cards Bill is simply one (albeit wide-ranging and high-profile) implementation of Government policy on national identity management, killing it without also overturning the strategy would at best slow up implementation. And, probably, make it more likely that other components of implementation would be put into place without parliamentary oversight and regulation. Lop off a tentacle, and more will grow for as long as the brain lives.
I'm sorry, I can't comment on this right now: I am just too blazingly livid**.
* Sorry, Mark.
** But not too livid to make another bad-taste and utterly gratuitous joke at Master Oaten's expense, obviously...