Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Identity and passport services failing to be a money spinner

"Government plans to position the Identity & Passport Service as the UK's de facto identity services broker seem not to have entirely caught the imagination of the private sector, figures in IPS' annual report and accounts suggest. Although IPS recruited 44 new customers for its Passport Validation Service (PVS), income from this for the year ending March 2008 was only £357,000."

the register article

Interesting article. The problem appears to be that the government's attempts to position itself as the source of verification of individual identity are not being looked favourably upon by the private sector.

The move seems counter to recent government's desire to privatise everything and outsource services (including such 'legitimate monopoly on the use of force' activities as policing and defence). Until it becomes apparent that the government intends it's identity checking services to be dependent upon data acquired from the commercial sector. As part of it's plans for the identity card scheme the government intends to compare application data to data held by the credit reference agencies, to check that you're a real person.

Obviously this means that a 'real person' has a relationship (or several) with financial services, and has developed a credit rating of some sort. Most of us do, but in isolated cases this could cause problems. This is one of the kickers about the identity card scheme and the register behind it - it's designed to work for people with 'normal' lives - and that's normal in a fairly statistical rather than normative sense. The people it will impact are those who fall outside this profile.

So. The government positions itself as the provider of secured identities, in the face of multiple threats and forces that make identity unstable and problematic. Yet at the same time, the real picture is so much more complex than this, as 'identity' would be made up from a series of institutional relationships, each with their own logics and metrics, and reasons for being put together.

This is the problem with re-using databases, and a good justification for data protection principles against re-use of data for reasons other than it was originally collected for. The questions asked when creating a database become hidden, and the provisional data, with all it's potential for inaccuracies, flaws, double records, missing elements, etc, becomes understood as 'fact'. Then used for other purposes, importing all those errors whilst at the same time hiding them, and discursively describing the system as more accurate, safe and secure.

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