|Charles Clarke||Response from Trevor Mendham|
Tony Benn (In the name of security, June 22) says the government is introducing the ID card scheme
"motivated by a determination ... to set up a massive database" that "incorporates everything
that is known about us all". This is untrue. The national identity register will hold very
limited information about individuals' identity, such as your name, address, gender, nationality
and date of birth. The aim is not to build a massive database about individuals, but to link a
person's biometrics, who they are, to their true identity.
Schedule 1 of the Bill lists around 50 categories of information that can be recorded in
the Register. The Home Affairs Committee said:
"Before considering the detail of the draft Bill, we note that, as
currently drafted, it goes far wider than would be needed to introduce a
simple system to establish and demonstrate identity"
We must also remember the audit trail (Schedule 1, para 9). Every time your card is checked against the central
(the National Identity Register - NIR) a record will be made of when that check took place and to whom the information
was given. The audit trail will in effect give the government a record of where we go and
what we do.
It is the database that is the real threat; it is the database that the government really
It will therefore make it much easier for everyone to prove who they are and make
it much more difficult for people to steal others' identities.
Remember that this is not about enabling, it is about enforcing. This is not a voluntary scheme
to which we will flock because it will somehow make things easier for us.
The NIR will be a prime target for terrorists and organised crime.
When the biometrics
and/or the NIR are cracked this system will provide them with a skeleton key to our identity.
Second, he says the database will "integrate our personal particulars with police and
security service files". The register will only hold information about a person's identity
and will not in any way be integrated with existing files held by other organisations. It will
not, for instance, hold any tax or financial information, nor will it hold medical or criminal
records. In addition, just as with other personal records, data-protection law means that
individuals will have access to the information held.
The NIR itself will not hold this information. However, by issuing everyone with a
universal identity number to be used everywhere this scheme will make it much easier for
people to cross-reference other databases. Remember that there is no restriction on anyone
- public sector or private company - recording your NIR number in their database.
The NIR will not hold tax or medical records. But it will make it far easier for
other people to find those records.
Third, he says the information on the database will "automatically be available" to the US.
Again not true. The identity cards bill has strict provisions allowing information from
the register to be provided without an individual's consent, for example to the police or
security services to help with their investigations. But there will be no open access to the
register and there is certainly no agreement that any other country will be given access to
the information held.
Clarke is right that the information will not automatically be given to the
US. However a variety of security services in the UK will have access to the data and the
Secretary of State has a lot of discretion over disclosure.
Once data is provided to the security services, it is inevitable
that it will end up being shared.