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General election debate misses purpose of ID cards

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Information published by Government Departments since February shows that the database which underpins the ID Card is central to the Government's aim to deliver efficient and effective public services in general. This purpose, which is far wider than the narrow objective of establishing identity in order to access public services, has not been mentioned so far in the current general election campaign. For example, the Labour Party Manifesto refers to ID Cards in the context of immigration, identity theft, illegal working, fraudulent use of public services and terrorism.

Also absent from the general election debate is any commitment concerning the wider use of the database of registrable facts which will support the ID Card. It is this database, which will contain up to 50 classes of personal information held on each individual, which has alarmed the parliamentary committees dealing with the Constitution and Human Rights.

The committees' concerns have arisen because previous ID Card legislation was to provide sweeping powers to ministers which could permit many public authorities to access personal details on the database for a wide range of purposes.

Concern was also expressed about an ID Card database which would contain a snapshot of an individual's lifestyle because it would contain records of all service providers who use the card to verify identity (e.g. which out-patient clinic was visited by the ID card holder; which bank has opened an account for the ID card holder).

New developments show that the ID card has become integral to the success of the Government's e-strategy. Published in March 2005, Connecting the UK: the Digital Strategy aims to tackle the persistent digital divide and low uptake of e-government services by UK citizens. In relation to the ID Card, the e-strategy states that "the Home Office will ensure that ID Cards are developed in such a way as that they add value to the whole range of digital transactions". This means that e-transactions could be reflected in a record in the ID card database, e.g. if the database was accessed to check identity of the sender of the digital transaction.

Details of an ID card Gateway Review, published on the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) website as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request last month, reveals that the wider "public service" use of the ID card database has been an objective of Government for two years. The OGC Review, dated June 2003, states that the ID Card database "could provide a more efficient basis for administering public services by avoiding the need for people to provide the same personal information time and again to a range of public services".

The OGC Review continues:

"There would also be savings for service providers as there would be a single definitive source of information about people's identity and possibly a unique personal number for everyone registered on the system".

The OGC Review thus confirms that the ID card database is likely to develop into a reference point database for all the important public services used by the Card holder, and for certain private sector services where there is a requirement to check identity.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) is also planning additional uses of the ID card database, and is in the second stage of project definition which will exploit the database for purposes unconnected with terrorism, crime, identity fraud and immigration.

According to a statement given to parliament the ONS "has investigated the costs and benefits of a range of potential options for delivering a population register" and has concluded that it should integrate "proposals for a national identity register (NIR) as part of the Government's proposals for ID cards".

The ONS will report to ministers by June 2005 "in more detail how the NIR could function as a population register and exploring opportunities for adding value to existing database developments that could be cost effective ahead of the NIR reaching maturity".

As these developments relate to the ID card database, they also heighten the constitutional and privacy issues identified by the Constitution and Human Rights Committees.

Finally, OUT-LAW can resolve one ambiguity over the fingerprinting of passport applicants. Recent press reports have give the impression that that only those applying for passports for the first time will be fingerprinted. A spokesperson for the Labour Party has confirmed that "If you decide to apply for a new passport you will get a new ID card". This means that any applicant for a passport will be fingerprinted, not only for the purposes of the new passport, but for the ID card and the related database entry.

Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com

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