Government plans for universal identity cards are likely to cost more than expected with much of the additional cost falling on local government and healthcare, according to research commissioned by the office of the Information Commissioner.
The government has "significantly underestimated the costs" of the project, according to Perri 6, director at the Institute for Applied Health and Social Policy at King's College London.
Presenting a paper commissioned by the Information Commissioner, 6 said that the costs of local authorities, health authorities and police seemed to be missing from government calculations.
A sophisticated smartcard is likely to cost £2.6bn over 13 years from planning to full operations, according to government estimates, while a simple smartcard system could cost around £1.1bn.
"This is a vast project, with 67.5 million records and 314 million cards distributed over 10 years," said 6.
"It will interface with many thousands of local authority systems, healthcare systems, police and housing.
"The design of these interfaces and integration will be enormous."
Because the cards will be used to gain access to government services they will have to interface with a large number of public sector systems, 6 explained.
"The quality control issue will be difficult to tackle and will need a great many trials, so we will need project management in nearly every local authority," he said.
According to 6, more sophisticated software will be needed to comply with the Data Protection Act.
Smartcard readers will have to be set up so that the minimum amount of information necessary can be seen. Integration with other smartcard systems will also add to the cost.
Making sure that data is correct will be another major issue, argued 6, adding that costs for this may also have been underestimated. And any central database could become a terrorist target.
David Rippon, professor of IT infrastructure management at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, said the project would have the best chance of success if it had a single focus on reducing identity theft and nothing else, to avoid scope creep.
"If you restrict the project scope the costs are probably there or there abouts. This does have the capability to reduce identity theft."
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, warned that accurate data would be vital should the scheme go ahead.
"How confident can we be in reality that we will get 100 per cent accuracy?" he said.
"We must avoid garbage in, garbage out."
Home secretary David Blunkett acknowledged that IT would be a serious issue.
"It does involve having a database which is reliable and cannot be intruded on and these are issues that we have to get to grips with," he said.
The public consultation on entitlement cards will run until the end of January.
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