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Pressure group aghast at Hillingdon ID card scheme

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Has Hillingdon Borough managed to find a way to introduce an ID card scheme that is non-intrusive, respects civil liberties – and is actually welcomed by local residents?

According to pressure group NO2ID, the answer is....no.

In June, Hillingdon started to issue "HillingdonFirst" cards to residents, offering "access to services and privileges not available to non-residents". The council began sending cards out to residents over 18 on 15th June. According to the Hillingdon council website: "We will only store and print your name and card number. No address or financial information will be stored or printed on the card".

The card is a key to a backend database that links through to other data stored. However, a spokesman for the Council was at pains to stress that the focus of this scheme was on access to council services, and the provision of benefits to local residents, as opposed to any monitoring or data gathering function.

When the card is used, a URN may be logged – but the look-up from URN to individual can only be accessed by a small number of individuals within the Council’s management team.

He explained further: "There is no obligation on local residents to use this card. However, some services, such as access to the local library or the Household Waste facilities, will only be made available on production of a card."

Preferential parking rates are available to residents using the card when they pay, and there are plans to install technology in local leisure centres, to provide Hillingdon residents with similar privileges there. The Council is also in talks with Transport for London to determine whether the card can be used on local transport.

Around 400 businesses have signed up to a scheme which means that, on presentation of the card, local residents will receive discounts or other benefits. In other words, the card is primarily a "privilege card".

So far, there appears to be widespread public support for the card. In consultation carried out prior to introduction of the card, the focus was on the discount side of the equation, and residents expressed themselves in favour of it by a wide majority. So far, this focus appears to have been carried through into practice, as Hillingdon Council’s spokesman explained: "businesses don’t really need to know the id of the person they are dealing with. If cards are occasionally loaned to non-residents, that is unlikely to cause any great grief."

Michael Parker, of campaign group NO2ID, spoke to El Reg. He said: "NO2ID is concerned about the normalisation of handing over huge amounts of info where there is no clear need and no clear strategy for how it will be used.

"This scheme looks fairly innocuous: the danger is it could be a Trojan Horse for future feature creep, leading to the card being far more like a traditional ID card. Our experience of "entitlement cards" in many areas around the country is that although they are marketed as providing privileges to local residents, they almost always end up being little more than excuses for data-gathering."

He added: "All these schemes would work as well with all information on the card and nothing on a central database."

In this case, the initiative appears to have less to do with the drive towards a database state, and far more to do with Hillingdon Council finding new ways to fund their services via stealth taxes. Their stated aim is for this scheme to cost nothing overall, as the price of local services will be fixed for residents – but increased for anyone coming in to Hillingdon from outside the Borough.

If other Councils buy in to this approach, then over the long term it might encourage individuals to make greater use of local services, as the price of out of area services becomes relatively more expensive. ®

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