Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards

Submission to the Home Affairs Committee

At the end of 2003 the Home Affairs Committee announced an investigation into the Government's plans for ID Cards. They requested written submissions from interested parties. Closing date for submissions was 5/1/2004. (This was before the Draft Bill was published)

My submission to the Committee is reproduced below. Note that length was limited to 2000 words and that the terms of reference didn't allow for a high level debate on the subject.

1. Introduction

1.1 This contribution has been prepared specifically for the Committee and is submitted on a personal basis - the author has no involvement with any political party.

1.2 I am a vocal campaigner against the concept of compulsory National Identity Cards which I believe turn citizens into suspects and deprive people of privacy. Unfortunately the Government has decided to ignore the warnings of people such as myself and proceed with this dangerous plan.

1.3 Given the terms of reference of this Inquiry it is not appropriate to repeat the many arguments against ID Cards in principle (a link to these is given in the Appendix). Instead this submission concentrates on raising a few of the important questions that must be asked and on making positive suggestions as to how the dangers of compulsory National Identity Cards can be minimised.


2. Initial Proof of Identity

2.1 Any National Identity Database is only as good as the information it contains. The database must be 100% accurate - 99% is not good enough.

2.2 It is not clear how the initial data to populate the National Identity Database will be obtained and verified.

2.3 The most reliable forms of identity most British citizens have today are probably passports and driving licences. Yet these can be forged and many people have neither.

2.4 There is a paradox here: If people do not have reliable proof of identity, how can the new National Identity Database be reliable? If people do have reliable proof of identity, why do they need an Identity Card?

2.5 Will we see the ludicrous spectacle of people being issued a high-tech, ultra-secure Identity Card on production of a gas bill?

2.6 It is not enough for the Home Office to say that documents will be "carefully scrutinised". We need to know at the outset exactly what initial proof of identity will be acceptable and how its validity is to be confirmed.

2.7 In the rush to issue ID Cards to the entire population we are in danger of legitimising existing fake ID.

2.8 The Home Office should be required to make a public statement as to the percentage of Identity Cards they expect to be incorrectly issued. This figure is of vital importance to the trust that the public can have in the system.


3. Privacy

3.1 The Home Secretary has been careful to state that the National Identity Database will contain only Identity details. The implication is that there is therefore no threat to privacy. This is at best technically ill-informed and at worst disingenuous.

3.2 Once a National Identity Database exists every citizen will have a unique identifier, some form of National Identity Number. Such an identifier will be the "key" to an individual's records. The important point here is that this key need not be restricted to the National Identity Database but could - and undoubtedly would - also be recorded on other databases, both government and private.

3.3 Even if the National Identity Database itself holds only identity, its mere existence will enable other databases to be easily merged to reveal anyone's "data shadow". This represents a serious threat to personal privacy.

3.4 The importance of this "key" cannot be stressed too highly. It is arguably more dangerous than the card per se and must be protected by legislation. I make the following recommendations:

3.4.1 It should be a specific offence to attempt to combine data from the National Identity Database with any other database or information system.

3.4.2 It should be a specific offence for any body - government, private or commercial - to record an individual's National Identity Number on any database or information system other than the National Identity Database.

3.4.3 It should be a specific offence for anyone to demand an individual's National Identity Number for reasons other than those specifically laid down by Parliament.


4. International Privacy of British Citizens

4.1 Whatever privacy safeguards there might be within the UK will be worthless if personal data is exported abroad.

4.2 As a specific example of the privacy issue, many people worry that the proposed National Identity Database will be implicitly linked to a future phase of the Schengen Information System.

4.3 Another example is the recent agreement to give US officials personal information concerning transatlantic passengers. It is vital that this agreement does not include National Identity information.

4.4 The Government must give specific assurances that information from the National Identity Database will never be in any way linked to Schengen or given routinely to other countries. Failure to give such assurances will confirm the fears of many such as myself.

4.5 More generally I propose that it be made a specific offence to transfer any information from the National Identity Database (including but not limited to individual National Identity Numbers) outside of the UK.


5. Biometric Scanning

5.1 Much has been made of the biometric security on the proposed Cards. However biometrics are only of value if they are checked - otherwise they will serve only to give a false sense of security.

5.2 It is proposed by the Government that - once compulsion is introduced - production of an Identity Card will be necessary in order to obtain employment. Will every business - including every local shop, builder and window cleaner - be required to purchase an expensive biometric scanner? If so, what estimates have been done on the cost to British business? How many small businesses are expected to fail because they cannot afford the scanners? Or will the cost be borne by the taxpayer?

5.3 If individual businesses are not expected to possess biometric scanners, will we see job applicants routinely frog-marched to the nearest police station, hospital or post office to have their details checked? What resources will be made available to the public services to cope with these checks and what will the costs be?

5.4 If shops do not have the scanners, how will the proposed biometrics help in preventing credit card fraud?


6. Reliability

6.1 The proposed scheme is likely to become central to life in Britain with many millions of checks taking place every day. This will happen even before compulsion is introduced.

6.2 All computer systems fail, usually due to hardware, software or communications problems. A system of this magnitude is more susceptible to failure than most.

6.3 What will be the effect on the country if the system fails? What contingency plans are in place? What will be the cost to British business of the system being down for one day? Who will bear this cost?

6.4 A system of such size and critical importance to the country must be designed - and costed - to military grade specifications with triple redundancy of hardware, software and communications. It is essential that the Home Office confirm this requirement before putting the work out to tender.


7. Public Acceptance of Compulsion

7.1 The Home Secretary has stated that compulsion would not be introduced without widespread public support. How is such support to be measured?

7.2 The Home Office does not have a good record in this area. During the recent "Entitlement Cards" consultation, the public overwhelmingly rejected the whole idea. In order to achieve their desired result the Home Office decided to ignore some 5000 responses on the grounds that they were part of an "organised campaign".

7.3 It seems perverse to ignore the opinion of people who feel so strongly about a subject that they join a campaign.

7.4 We must ensure that a similar situation does not occur with future ID Card compulsion. The Home Office must state at an early stage the level of public support that will be required for compulsion and the method for measuring that support.

7.5 Compulsion would be a significant constitutional change and I therefore propose that nothing short of a full national referendum would be acceptable.


8. Compulsion to Carry

8.1 The Home Secretary has repeatedly stated that it will not be compulsory to carry the Card and that the police will be given no new powers to demand production of the Card. This is welcome.

8.2 However it is easy to see a situation where such new powers are added by a future Government.

8.3 In order to prevent this I propose that any Bill on Identity Cards include a clause to explicitly prevent any future "compulsion to carry" rules ever being introduced.


9. De Facto Compulsion to Carry

9.1 Even if it is not legally compulsory to carry the card, many of us worry that "functionality creep" will result in de facto compulsion.

9.2 Once a National Identity Card exists, it will be easy for people to demand to see it on the grounds that "everyone has one". There is already talk of using the Card with/instead of a credit card and of using it to prove age in a pub.

9.3 It is easy to see such a trend spreading. Within a few years of the compulsory Card being introduced we are likely to be in a position where it is effectively impossible to operate in society without carrying one.

9.4 This would be "compulsion to carry" by the back door.

9.5 The assumption must be that no-one should ever be forced to show the card unless necessary for specific purposes agreed by Parliament. In particular it can never be acceptable for private individuals or companies to demand production of an ID Card as a pre-requisite for providing service.

9.6 I propose that it be made an offence for anyone to demand to see the Card except as laid down in a small list of specific cases. In particular it should be an offence to make provision of any service dependant on production of an ID Card.


10. Those Who Refuse Compulsion

10.1 A recent opinion poll suggested that one person in fourteen opposes ID Cards so strongly that they will refuse to have one even if it means breaking the law. That would suggest several million ID "refuseniks".

10.2 Even if that estimate is too high by a factor of ten, there will undoubtedly be many thousands of people who refuse the Card on principle. How will the Government deal with them once compulsion is introduced? Will they be subject to a fine or imprisonment?

10.3 If refusing the Card results in a custodial sentence, how will the prison system cope?

10.4 How will society in general cope with many thousands - possibly millions - of otherwise law-abiding citizens being criminalised overnight? How much damage will this do to the relationship between the public and the police?

10.5 These are serious issues which are at the heart of the constitutional impact of compulsion. They must be considered in depth before the whole ID Card process starts. It is not adequate to leave these questions for "future discussion".


11. Appendix

11.1 I believe that compulsory National Identity Cards are a serious threat to traditional British freedoms. Their introduction will turn the civil liberties clock back fifty years.

11.2 For this submission I have concentrated on ways of reducing the dangers from the Cards. However I remain opposed to the whole idea in principle and will continue to campaign against it. For a detailed analysis of the arguments I refer interested parties to my personal web site:


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