Advisers wary, MPs warned

May 5, 2006

Academics will be increasingly reluctant to offer independent advice to the Government, according to researchers from the London School of Economics whose report on ID cards was savaged by ministers, writes Claire Sanders.

Submitting a 23-point defence of their report to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Edgar Whitley, reader in information systems at the LSE, said: "The way the Home Office reacted to this report has worrying implications for the way in which independent academic advice will be received in the future. Academics will be reluctant to stick their heads above the parapet."

The report, which said that ID cards would cost far more to introduce than the Government had estimated, attracted strong condemnation from the Home Office.

Simon Davies, a visiting fellow at the LSE and one of the report's co-authors, compared his treatment to that of David Kelly, the scientist who committed suicide over the Iraq weapons scandal.

The evidence session at the House of Commons had been expected to be a stormy affair this week as LSE academics came face to face with one of their main critics - John Daugman, reader in computer vision at Cambridge University.

In fact, exchanges were muted. But Dr Daugman persisted in saying that the report was "unscientific". He said that parts on iris-scanning technology were based on a basic misunderstanding of the eye - with the authors confusing the retina and the iris.

The LSE researchers said: "We have previously acknowledged that in our interim report our lack of specific expertise in this area meant that we did confuse the two. As a result of feedback on this point we sought specialist advice and made many corrections before issuing our main report in June 2005."

Committee chair Phil Willis had earlier criticised Dr Daugman, who developed and patented iris-recognition technology, for not declaring a commercial interest.

Dr Daugman dismissed these accusations. "In 2004, I transferred to a charitable trust all of my interest in my iris-recognition patents," he said. "It is wrong to talk of anyone owning worldwide rights to iris scanning."

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