IT has been only a matter of time before Britain's Home Office admitted that it was rethinking its identity card proposals. Immediately after the public transport bombings in London on July 7 the Home Secretary was asked if identity cards would have done anything to prevent the atrocities. His answer was “probably not”. Yesterday the duty minister for identity cards, Tony McNulty, acknowledged that “in its enthusiasm” the government had mistakenly emphasised the benefits to the state rather than arguing the benefits to the individual citizen. He said that the government had been wrong to suggest that the scheme would prove the panacea for identity fraud, benefit fraud, terrorism, and entitlement and access to public services. Mr McNulty was commendably honest; he must know that once doubts arise about the national security benefits from identity cards the whole scheme is in danger of collapsing like, well, like a house of cards. Although the government was able to push its provisional proposals through Parliament before the summer recess it is likely that the Home Office will have to re–think the whole ambitious project. Public support has wilted, if only because of the projected cost of the sophisticated cards being planned, thought likely to range from 100 to 300 pounds. And over and above reservations about the utility of the cards there is the dark cloud of the government's appalling record with large scale computer projects. The identity card scheme promised to be the mother of all such projects and very few experts or people in the streets believed that it could be run efficiently and with appropriate regard for the security of personal information. Perhaps aware that he was in danger of talking himself out of job, Mr McNulty insisted that the government was still committed to going ahead with identity cards. However, on the basis of what he has now said it is clear that a much simplified and cheaper system will be required.


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