Data watchdog slams ID card plans

Docile Brits too ready to accept Big Brother surveillance

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Britain is at risk “sleepwalking into a surveillance society” because of David Blunkett’s identity card scheme and other UK government plans, according to the UK's Information Commissioner.

Richard Thomas also cited plans for a population register by the Office for National Statistics and a database on children, in warning of a slide towards a Big Brother-style system of ubiquitous surveillance in the UK. Thomas predicted Britain risks moving towards an East German Stasi-style snooping culture if current plans are followed through.

Thomas's comments came in an interview with The Times published today. He said: “My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society where much more information is collected about people, accessible to far more people shared across many more boundaries than British society would feel comfortable with."

The Information Commissioner is not opposed to ID cards on principle. But he is concerned about what he sees as the Home Office's failure to clearly define a purpose for ID cards, the amount of information that would be held on any card and who might be able to access this information. Clamping down on benefit fraud, control illegal immigration and preventing terrorism have been cited as the main reason why Britain needs ID cards by the Home Office at one time or another.

The government proposed ID card scheme will involve the establishment of a national register of citizens’ personal details, widely accessible to government departments. This approach gives the UK's Information watchdog the fear.

In response to the Home Office’s consultation on identity cards, Thomas concludes “whilst I am not fundamentally opposed to the introduction of ID cards I do have significant concerns about the current proposals. The privacy implications of an extensive national identity register are, in many ways, of far greater concern for individuals. This aspect needs more of a public debate." ®

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