Q&A: The ID card commissioner talks cards and controversy

We spoke to ID card commissioner Sir John Pilling about his thoughts on the identity scheme and why we might all think he's a bit of prat down the line.

The identity card scheme has been controversial since the idea was first mooted, called intrusive, unnecessary, expensive and another addition to the UK's Big Brother state.

To help calm fears - and make sure the programme runs as it should - the Government last year named long-time civil servant Sir Joseph Pilling as ID card commissioner, leaving many questioning how independent a long-term Government employee would be.

Advertisement - Article continues below

After a few months in the job, Sir Pilling has filed his first report. We spoke to him about the job so far and what he thinks of all the criticism.

You spend a lot of time in the report talking about what your role is and what it should be, and what it isn't. You say your job isn't to judge the value of the programme to taxpayers - that such a job falls to the National Audit Office - so what do you think your role should be?

I'm wondering about that actually. I think that we're not a bunch of accountants here, and we'd have to employ a bunch of accountants to do a really sophisticated job on the money.

The National Audit Office exists to scrutinise that. It will scrutinise it whether I scrutinise it or not, so there is just the case of whether it's justifiable to use our limited resources to go over ground that others are inevitably going to go over.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

But I don't intend to interpret that self-denying ordinance in an overly scrupulous way. And if I've got some observations to make about money, or that touch on money, I shan't feel inhibited doing it. But I haven't yet stubbed my toe on anything that makes me really wince.

I suppose what's making me think about all of this is that they're charging 30 for an ID card at the moment. I'm just wondering whether that is going to be possible to sustain indefinitely, because the process seems to me to be quite an expensive process, in the sense that the better the quality the card, in terms of its security, the more reliable it is the less easy to use fraudulently, the more it costs to produce it by definition.

I mean, you could create me an ID card on your computer that could be done quite cheaply that wouldn't actually be very much good. I guess what interests me is the balance between the costs and the security of the card, because you could overdo it. You could make it prohibitively expensive.

Advertisement - Article continues below

I'm not at all thinking that they are doing [that], I'm just describing a process of thought I've been going through that makes me wonder if I haven't been too dogmatic about money in what you've just read back to me.

You admit yourself in the report that you didn't know that much about the subject when you were picked for the job. Why do you think they picked you?

I think it's by definition. It can not have been an easy job to fill. Because the opposition have a set of policies on the subject which are rather different to the Government's.

The election has to happen rather soon, whatever the Prime Minister thinks. He can make it happen a little bit sooner, he could announce it today if he wanted, but whether he announces it early or not, it's got to be quite soon.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

And I suppose realistically the likelihood is that this job will disappear if the current opposition become the Government. I mean, they haven't addressed anything as detailed as the future of the ID commissioner, but it certainly would be a colloray of the certain types of things they are discussing.

Advertisement - Article continues below

So who wants to drop what they're doing to take on a role that is only going to last for a matter of months? They were forced to have somebody as the ID commissioner, because by law they couldn't issue a card until they had a commissioner.

They solved the problem by coming to somebody like me, who wasn't actually looking for a job and didn't mind if the job actually continued or not. I'm so old and so past it that I didn't apply for the job and wouldn't have been willing to do it on a full-time basis, because I've got other things that I am committed to. They said they'd be willing for me to do it on a part-time basis if I were willing to do it on a part-time basis.

And I thought it sounded interesting. It raises tricky issues about identity and what we mean by it, and about why it is that there are growing problems of identity fraud, and growing internationalism. I'm trying to avoid [saying] globalisation, but I think it's a bit difficult to avoid it all together. Globalisation and technology, the use of card technology, various features have lead to more and more emphasis being put on identity. People's anxiety about borders and illegal immigration and so on and so forth.

Advertisement - Article continues below

I have relatively little background in that. I think one of the great joys of retirement is you have time to spend poking around in things you didn't have time for when you were working. I've done a number of new things since I stopped work four and a bit years ago, and this was another different thing.

It's not the summit of my career to do this. I's something I've taken on to be helpful.

Featured Resources

Key considerations for implementing secure telework at scale

Identifying the security risks and advanced requirements of a remote workforce

Download now

The State of Salesforce 2020

Your guide to getting the most from Salesforce

Download now

Fast, flexible and compliant e-signatures for global businesses

Be at the forefront of digital transformation with electronic signatures

Download now

Rethink your cybersecurity strategy for the new world

5 steps to secure the enterprise and be fit for a flexible future

Download now
Advertisement
Advertisement

Most Popular

How to find RAM speed, size and type
Laptops

How to find RAM speed, size and type

3 Aug 2020
How to use Chromecast without Wi-Fi
Mobile

How to use Chromecast without Wi-Fi

4 Aug 2020
Police use of facial recognition ruled unlawful in the UK
privacy

Police use of facial recognition ruled unlawful in the UK

11 Aug 2020