Watchdog orders ID card report release

Information Commissioner rules that Government reports into identity cards must be published

The freedom of information watchdog has ordered the Government to publish secret reports containing its assessment of the benefits and risks of identity cards.

The Department of Work and Pensions had prepared the reports on how the cards could help fight identity fraud, but had refused a Liberal Democrat request for their release. However, in a decision today, the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas ruled that publication of the reports was in the public interest.

The Government had refused access to the reports claiming that they contained commercially sensitive information and publication could make it harder to get value for money when the government handed out contracts to firms to set up the scheme.

But in his ruling, Mr Thomas ruled that although the information was covered by exemptions provided in the Act, the public interest in disclosure outweighed these concerns.

“There is clearly a strong public interest in the public knowing whether the introduction of identity cards will bring benefits to the DWP, and to other government departments, and if so what those benefits will be,” he said.

Mr Thomas added that the reports will help informed public debate of the ID card issue – including whether it ought to be compulsory to carry the cards.

“It will allow the public to make a more accurate assessment of whether the significant costs of the scheme are justified by the benefits it is likely to deliver in areas such as the prevention of benefit fraud,” says Mr Thomas.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Government has 30 days to decide whether to appeal against the Information Commissioner’s ruling.