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'No risk of discs flying around'

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The National Identity Register will have very limited access, stringent security and no risk of 'discs flying around', MPs have been told.

Home Office minister Meg Hillier defended the government's plans for its controversial National Identity Scheme, as she faced questions about data security from a committee of MPs.

Hillier, who has responsibility for identity cards, said it was important to win public confidence in the scheme, particularly following a number of recent cases in which the government had misplaced or lost confidential data.

The biggest loss was at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). It sent two discs with the details of 25m families to the National Audit Office by courier, which failed to arrive.

"From the point of view of the National Identity Register, there would not be discs flying around in that way. Anything that was ever downloaded would be encrypted. There would be severe access controls," said Hillier.

She said that human error was involved in data loss from HMRC, whereas fewer than 100 people will have access to the National Identity Database. Another major benefit would be that all the information will be held in one place.

Committee member Bob Russell said this was a case of the government putting "all its eggs in one basket". But Hillier said there would actually be two "baskets", one database for biometrics, such as fingerprints and facial records, and another for biographical information.

The government will also create an "identity custodian", to whom members of the public could apply about any accesses to their ID records.

Dr Duncan Hine, director of national identity scheme integrity for the Identity and Passport Service, told the committee that the biometric data will be held at a higher level of security than the biographical information. He said that the vast majority of accesses will be initiated by the individual concerned, for example when they buy a house and need to prove their identity.

In rare cases the security services will be able to access the database, but not the NHS or police, the committee heard.

James Clappison MP expressed concern that European institutions will have access to ID card data. He asked exactly which bodies would be allowed access and in what circumstances. Hillier said that the number of institutions were too many to list, but any organisation requesting access would have to prove it needed the information as part of an ongoing investigation.

The National Identity Register will be very similar to the passport database and Hillier said: "The passport database is certainly a very secure database. The average man and woman in the street are not worried about it."

Asked if the government gauged public opinion on identity cards, she said the latest official findings were that 60 per cent of citizens were in favour.

Committee member Martin Salter warned that if the security of the National Identity Register was breached "it could be catastrophic for the individuals concerned".

Philippe Martin, senior analyst at Kable, said: "The government appears to be moving the debate about identity away from ID cards and towards a National Identity Register.

"This could indicate a postponement of ID cards for UK nationals, as the government changes the direction of the scheme away from providing a card to facilitate access to services and towards collecting information about citizens."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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