Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)

Briefings - Charles Clarke, 28/06/2005

On 28/6/2005 Charles Clarke opened the debate on the Second Reading of the misnamed Identity Cards Bill. Here are my responses to the record from Hansard.

Charles ClarkeResponse from Trevor Mendham
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I remind hon. Members that this Bill is based on the Bill that was read a Second time on 21 December 2004 and approved by this House on 10 February 2005, that the public debate started under my predecessor in 2002 and that the draft Bill was subject to six months' public consultation I'm surprised Clarke wants to remind us of that. According to the government's own figures, the result of that consultation was that 48% of the public opposed the scheme and only 31% supported it.
and pre-legislative scrutiny by the Home Affairs Committee in 2004. The Bill has been well debated. Another surprising reminder from Clarke. The HAC supported the concept of ID Cards but only by a majority. In an unusual move a minority of the Committee members issued a seperate report condemning the whole idea.

Even the majority report that supported ID Cards in theory was highly critical of the government's proposals in practice.

You can read the HAC report here.

The Bill is enabling legislation to provide the statutory authority for a national identity cards system to be introduced to cover the whole of the United Kingdom, together with the national identity register to record information on holders of ID cards. It also gives legislative authority for expenditure on setting up the ID cards scheme and for charging fees. Technically accurate but misleading. It is actually - as noted by the Lords Constitution Committee - first and foremost an identity database Bill which happens to include provision for ID Cards.
In brief, the Bill establishes the national identity register; provides powers to issue biometric ID cards either linked to existing designated documents or as stand-alone ID cards; ensures that checks can be made against databases to confirm an applicant's identity and guard against fraud; sets out what information will be held - including biometrics - and what safeguards will be put in place; Fine so far but then...
enables public and private sector organisations to verify a person's identity, with their consent; Whoah! Hang on a minute - how did the word "consent" get there?

Section 18 of the Bill provides restrictions on private companies demanding to see ID Cards unless they provide a "reasonable" alternative. But section 18-2-c eliminates these restrictions as soon as universal compulsion is introduced. In the case of public services, a similar thing happens at the end of section 15-2.

Once universal compulsion is introduced, your local video shop will be able to demand to check your ID card before serving you.

Technically, of course, Clarke is right. It will be "consensual" - but only in the sense that you could decide not to rent a video. If every supermarket decides to demand to check your ID Card when you pay by plastic, what choice do you really have?

includes enabling powers, so that, in future, access to specified public services could be linked to the production of a valid card; provides a power for it to become compulsory at a future date to register and to be issued with a card, which includes civil penalties against failure to register; creates a national identity scheme commissioner to have oversight of the whole scheme; and creates new criminal offences on the possession of false ID cards. Clarke forgot to mention some of the other new offences created. One of these is forgetting to tell the government when you change address - that could land you with a fine of 1000.
There has been general support for ID cards, but many serious, practical concerns have been expressed on both sides of the House, and I intend to address five of those concerns on Second Reading. First, I shall address the range of concerns around the Big Brother society - it has been described in other ways. Secondly, I shall address issues of cost, which are a serious concern for many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Thirdly, I shall set out the benefits of the scheme for both individuals and society. Fourthly, I shall address the concerns about the project's size, technology and scale. Fifthly, I shall deal with safeguards and legal processes. I shall give way at various points in my speech in line with that structure.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con):
Does the Home Secretary agree that the Information Commissioner's remarks that the
"data trail of identity checks on individuals risk an unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion into individuals' privacy"?
Such identity checks are in fact and in law an intrusion into people's human rights. How can he sign off the Bill as being compatible with the European convention on human rights?

Mr. Clarke:
I do not agree with the Information Commissioner, and I shall begin my remarks by explaining exactly why.

We live in a society where information is held about all of us - everyone in this House and everyone in this country - on a scale unfamiliar to our predecessors even as recently as 10 years ago. A vast range of information exists in our society today, including information on the internet that one can access simply by typing in a name, financial and bank details, health and medical information, police and law enforcement-related material, travel-related documentation and information about a person's telephone communications, driving licence, national insurance and tax. That range of information cannot be uninvented, nor can the globalised world in which crime is international but impacts on every community. Those are the realities with which we have to live. Quite right - the situation is already bad. This Bill will make it far worse.

I have never understood the argument that because things are bad, because our privacy is already being undermined daily, then it is somehow OK to make things worse and undermine our privacy further.

If Clarke really understands the issues he has just outlined, he should be spending his time finding ways to introduce a statutory right to privacy and allow us control of our own information. Not just who accesses it, but whether or not it is collected in the first place.

We must address only two questions in considering how we deal with this so-called Big Brother society. First, in relation to each category of information that I have just set out, what protections currently exist for authorities to access data, for the right to see data, and for the right to use a service, whether it is a cash machine or a passport? No, no, no, no, NO!

The first question we should address is whether or not it is acceptable to collect and retain this information in the first place, especially where explicit consent has not been given. Only then should we consider issues regarding access to that information.

Clarke is ducking that issue and hence avoiding the question of whether or not it is acceptable for the ID database to contain an audit trail in the first place.

In each of those areas there is a specific legal framework that regulates the information that exists about all of us. The first point that I want to make very strongly indeed is that nothing in the Bill changes any of those protections for any of those categories of data. There are issues about each of those categories of data that people can legitimately discuss and consider, but this Bill is not about those questions Again, by talking about protections for the data Clarke is implicitly assuming that collecting that data is acceptable. That is the fundamental problem with this Bill.

Regardless of any safeguards, is it right that any government should in effect have a complete record of where we go and what we do?

The second question is, can we verify that the information that exists about an individual is indeed about that individual? That is where identity cards come in and where the Bill is relevant. Again, an important question but not the most important one.

Clarke is assuming that it is OK for the government to collect huge amounts of information about our private lives - so long as they do it accurately. I beg to differ.

We need to protect our society in this globalised world, for the simple reason that, in many cases, identity can be stolen, whether it is a fraudster getting money from a bank account, a people trafficker providing false documents for a trafficked person, or a smuggler pretending to be their own father to deal with data. Such identity can be stolen. In other cases, complicated processes are now needed to check identity because it is not secure - there are examples as simple as opening a bank account, getting a pass from the Criminal Records Bureau or getting a passport or driving licence. Yes. We need to tighen up existing systems. We need to educate people about identity theft. There are many things that can be done and are already being done to address this problem - "chip and pin" is one.

If this is the real reason for this Bill (and the reason does seem to change from week to week) then the government should do an extensive study and consultation comparing different possible ways of addressing this problem. They should compare the different options in terms of cost, effectiveness and intrusiveness.

They should seriously consider the LSE report and the alternative system it proposes. Instead, the government simply attempted to rubbbish the LSE report and dismissed their alternative out of hand.

They won't consider alternatives, of course, because they know their scheme would lose.

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