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ID cards to stop ex-cons migrating for anonymity

While police call for limit to its database powers

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John Reid, the UK Home Secretary, told Parliament Wednesday that ID Cards could stop people with seriously sinful criminal records from sneaking across borders to escape scrutiny after they leave prison.

His comments followed Tuesday's revelation by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that it inherited a backlog of 27,500 criminals records related to information shared between the UK and other EU governments when it took responsibility for such co-operation last May.

Reid told the Commons that of 500 British residents with former serious criminal records that ACPO inherited, that 280 could not be entered onto the police national computer (PNC) because their details were incomplete. These included people who had records of violent and sexual offences.

The greatest problem, said Reid, was that it was difficult to identify ex-offenders with the paltry records sometimes supplied by other countries.

"Nothing would be a bigger boost for their ability to protect the public than some form of identity management," he said, before going on to finger those MPs who had campaigned against the imposition of ID cards last year.

"Identity cards are an important consideration in the future in the protection of the public and quite frankly it ill behoves people to stand up and demand the ends that they want to see and then on every occasion oppose the means of achieving those ends," he said.

The source of details on the poor record of ex-offenders at large in Britain, a submission made by ACPO to the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday, said that the hole it had found in police records could be filled by the exchange between EU countries of biometrics that identified serious ex-offenders.

But it stopped short of recommending identity cards as a solution to the problem. It said, rather, that the photographs, fingerprint and, where available, DNA records that usually populate criminal records should be exchanged.

"If we are to take conviction of UK nationals abroad and place them on [the] PNC...then we need to confirm who the conviction relates to and that can only be done with certainty by using the biometrics obtained by the police abroad at the time of arrest/charge," said the ACPO paper.

The problem that blighted so many of the UK records was that co-operating EU authorities did not have access to the biometric and other criminal data to send it in the first place.

The links established between authorities following the EU decision of 2005 to computerise the 1959 Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, were mostly established between bodies allied to courts. If ACPO wanted to improve its records of former offenders with identifying fingerprints, it had to make requests to police authorities via Interpol, which would be considered on a case by case basis and could take months.

"The EU needs an agreement," said ACPO, "that a conviction sent to the UK from within the EU, will be accompanied by at least fingerprints and a photograph."

It also said realtime police database links, something the US Department of Homeland Security encouraging other countries to work toward, were not "perhaps desirable".

"What is required is a framework to permit the lawful exchange of information, in a transparent fashion, providing guidance and protection to officers and citizens alike."

It is, however, likely that European police databases do not need to update one another in realtime in order to create a second class European police database.

Guy Herbert, general secretary of No2ID, which campaigns against the introduction of ID cards and the "database state", said the use of such a database, populated with criminal records from across Europe, could be open to abuse.

"It should be checked that the information is right and that it is shared only for legitimate police purposes," he said, "What is not acceptable is if the data is wrong or used for other purposes, which is likely to occur because there are people in the middle."

Widespread abuse of data held by the criminal records bureau, and the widespread presence of errors in data held by British police forces, suggests that any links with foreign repositories should be formed with extreme caution.®

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