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Tories: Europeans could get access to UK ID database

Project STORK. Not STALK.

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STORK actually stands for Secure idenTity acrOss boRders acKnowledged*. Back in June, Belgian e-gov official Frank Leyman gave this presentation (pdf) on the scheme, describing it as a "large scale pilot" and saying that ten countries had signed "letters of intent" to participate, including the UK, Belgium, and others such as France, Poland, Estonia and Slovenia. Another five nations were interested but not committed at that stage.

"The consortium is about to be formed," according to Mr Leyman. Belgians' "eID" would be based on the Belgian national ID smartcard; other nations such as Slovenia would use "virtual identification" (presumably a login and password like the UK government gateway) and there would also - according to Leyman - be an "Anglo Saxon model", based on "other identification tools like passports".

The usefulness of Stork is described thus:

A citizen living in country A will be able with the eID... to make a tax declaration online in country B where s/he is currently working... get automatic and paperless reimbursement of health expenses incurred during holidays in country C... and get pension rights from country D (where s/he was working before for some years)...

One of the participating organisations in STORK is EEMA - "Europe's leading independent, trade association for e-Business" - headquartered in the UK.

EEMA's Roger Dean told the Reg that Stork is 50 per cent funded by the EU to the tune of €10m, with participating national governments and businesses expected to cough up another €10m. EEMA's stance on eID/National ID cards is fairly plain:

ID cards were viewed positively during the Second World War, as a means of protecting citizens against spies. However, there are some serious concerns regarding the introduction of an ID card into the UK... such schemes have been in existence for years in other ‘civilised’ countries, are compulsory, and yet are not perceived as challenging civil rights. Properly implemented it could act for the greater social good... It is also likely that it would facilitate evoting and remote voting. However, one of the main benefits would be in providing proof of identification for ebusiness – an area which simply cannot enjoy its full potential without it... EEMA and a number of its Member organisations look forward to collaborating with the Government in this vital area of identity management.

Dean told the Reg that he himself was broadly in favour of a UK national ID card scheme.

"If you ask me, [UK] ID cards yes or no, I'd say yes," he said. "Sooner or later everyone will have an identity card in some form... the Belgians are rolling theirs out, the Estonians are fully complete - though there are only two million of them, so that was a comparatively small project."

Dean said that Stork was intended to allow, for instance, a doctor to access health records held by a different country. This did seem to confirm the Tories' spectre of quite far-flung public officials being able to access the proposed UK databases. However Dean said that the process would be "under the individual's control".

Police forces, of course, already share information via organisations such as Interpol. Exactly how much access different enforcement authorities might have to the various Stork-involved databases across Europe wasn't clear.

According to EEMA, the various participants in Project Stork have now submitted their proposals to the European Commission, and they await a decision "hopefully as soon as January or February" on the scheme moving ahead.

The Home Office, asked about this, said that proposals had indeed been submitted but they didn't expect any EC decision before next April. Even then, they were at pains to emphasise that "this is purely a research effort".

When it was pointed out that the Belgians were calling Stork a "large-scale pilot", the Home Office spokesman said "well, we're calling it a research project."

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