Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)


This is page 2 of my personal response to Baroness Scotland's speech in the House of Lords on 21/3/2005. Click here for page 1.
Baroness ScotlandResponse from Trevor Mendham
Much of the cost of introducing identity cards will need to be incurred in any case to keep our passports up to acceptable international standards. This will include the plans we have already announced for the introduction of personal interviews for all first-time passport applicants. It really does make good sense for us now to build on the existing plans for biometric passports to provide our own biometric identity card scheme. This is a sensible addition.

"Much" is an interesting word. It is my belief that most of the cost will be incurred in setting up and maintaining the Register and related infrastructure. This, as explained below, is outwith the scope of the international passport standards.

Some 80 per cent of adults already hold a passport. On our current plans this would allow for the issue of the first identity cards in 2008 by a new agency incorporating the United Kingdom Passport Service and working closely with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office.

And it's that 80% per cent figure that blows away any pretence by the Government that the first phase of the scheme will be "voluntary". How can it be voluntary if 80% of the population are forced to register when renewing a passport?

The Bill defines biometric information at Clause 43 as being data about external characteristics. These include facial biometrics, fingerprints and iris images.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, will my noble friend give way? Does she know why DNA has been excluded?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, DNA has been excluded because it is clear that if DNA material were to be included, it would go beyond simply making this a means of identification.

This is the most astonishing cheek. The entire Bill goes way beyond simply a means of identification!

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, the noble Baroness is making a connection between the international requirement for biometric identifiers on passports and the ID cards that the Government wish to introduce. However, can she confirm that the ICAO standard for passports is just a digitised photograph? It does not include fingerprints or any other biometric identifiers. I think that that point needs to be made clear if the ID card is purported to be based on international passport requirements.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course the ICAO digitised photograph requirement is one thing, but the noble Baroness will know that three methods are currently under consideration. The first is the iris image, the second relates to facial recognition and the third is fingerprints. By fashioning our scheme so that it can respond to those three different types of identification, we are better preparing ourselves for the future.

Baroness Ludford raises a vital point which Baroness Scotland attempts to brush aside. Just to be clear:
The ICAO standards for passports require only a digitised photo.

There is no requirement for iris scans. There is no requirement for fingerprints. The government is choosing to implement these "just in case".

In particular there is no requirement for passports to be linked to a huge, intrusive National Identity Register. The government is choosing to implement this incredibly expensive database. It is the database that is the real threat and it is the database that the government really wants.

My noble friend is right to point out that DNA is not being used. As I said, there has been much debate and concerns have been expressed about the inappropriate use of such data and whether they are truly to be used simply as a means of identification only. We think that by restricting the data to facial biometrics, fingerprints and iris images, we will draw a line that makes it crystal clear that this is for identification and no other purpose.

If the scheme is truly only for "identification only", why does the database store not just our current address but every address at which we have ever lived? Why does it include details on nationality and residential status? Why does it include an audit trail that gives the government a complete picture of where we go and what we do?

Biometrics are a new concept and some have asked us the obvious question: will it work? I can reassure noble Lords that the National Physical Laboratory carried out a study in 2003 and published a report which concluded that:

"In principle, fingerprint or iris recognition can provide the identification performance required for unique identification over the entire UK adult population".
The words "in principle" are very significant there!
Not only that, but the United Kingdom Passport Service has also carried out a trial of biometric enrolment of a sample of some 10,000 individuals to test the practicalities of enrolling biometrics. This has included using a mobile enrolment unit that could travel to rural areas as well as to offshore islands.

This was a small scale trial to test the enrollment technology and public perception of the process. It sheds no light on the viability of such biometrics on a national scale. And the results haven't even been published yet!

In addition, we are looking very carefully at the real and practical difficulties that might be faced by some groups of individuals, for example the elderly, the housebound and those with special needs because of illness or disability. I cannot give detailed answers today on how we will deal with every one of those groups when the identity card scheme is introduced. However, I can say that officials in the identity cards programme are in contact with representatives of special interest groups, for example the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and I give a commitment that we will look sensitively at all genuine reasons for special treatment in the process of obtaining an identity card. We have recently undertaken research among race, faith, disabled and other groups to identify the special needs of particular groups in the design of the scheme. This includes people with hearing difficulties, with impaired sight and with arthritis. We will be publishing the research later this month.

The legislation allows for this and Clause 41(4) makes clear that any regulations made under the Bill can make different provision for different cases, and can provide for exemptions and exceptions.

This is, of course, welcome. However perhaps the government should have considered these fundamental problems before trying to rush through the Bill?

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UK ID Cards - Introduction

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