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Parliamentary report flags ID scheme human rights issues

Home Office becoming serial lawbreaker?

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Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights has flagged a string of problems the UK's ID Cards Bill has with the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into UK law in 1998. The Committee's report draws Parliament's attention to "a number of serious questions of human rights compatibility", and it has written a lengthy note to Home Secretary Charles Clarke asking for answers to 14 of them by next Monday (7th February).

Asked this morning if the report meant that it was now time to put ID cards on hold, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said that international requirements for biometric passports meant there was a need to go down this route, and that the Prime Minister believed the legislation satisfied the UK's commitment to international human rights conventions.

This however is clearly not what the Committee believes. It particularly questions the extent, justification and proportionality of the information to be held in the National Identity Register, and points to the potential for information to be recorded there without the individual's consent. It also notes that the "designated documents" capability will make registration effectively compulsory for some groups of people, and that the intent to phase the scheme in may discriminate against some groups subject to compulsion.

The extent of disclosure of personal information to service providers in exchange for the delivery of public services and other reasons, and the capability for the unlimited extension of powers of disclosure are also flagged. The Government's approach so far to such criticisms of the scheme has boiled down to stating that it is confident it complies with human rights law, and that there will be "safeguards". The Committee's letter to Clarke however demands clear justifications of the purpose of each of the points of concern, together with detailed explanations of the safeguards.

Some of of this territory has actually been covered during the extremely brief Committee stage of the Bill, where Minister Des Browne in particular fleshed out some of the Government's interpretations and intentions. These are, however, simply what the Government currently says the Bill is supposed to do and what it intends to do with it, not what the Bill itself says, and the Bill emerged from Committee largely unamended.

Also on the human rights and freedom theme, the Office of Government Commerce has responded to Spy Blog's FOIA request for publication of its Gateway Reviews of the ID scheme saying it needs a further 15 working days "to consider the balance of public interest." Spy Blog notes that this takes any publication neatly beyond the Third Reading of the Bill in the Commons on 10th February. Coincidentally (?) Minister Paul Boateng recently replied to a question from LibDem Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten with: "I am currently reviewing whether there is any Gateway Review or other OGC review which should be published regarding the identity cards scheme and I will write to the hon. Member as soon as these considerations are complete." Which would perhaps be the week after next, Paul?

So over to Charles Clarke. Will he have a response to the Committee on Human Rights by Monday, and if so, will it be good enough? The Bill will almost certainly go through the Commons next week anyway, but if the Government can't make a convincing stab at the human rights angle, opposition in the Lords is likely to stregthen. ®

Related links:

Joint Human Rights Committee report UK gov ready to u-turn on passport-ID card link?
Labour's Zombie Army clinches ID card vote for Clarke
Europe kicks UK out of biometric passport club

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