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ID cards to use 'key database' of personal info

Published Monday 26th April 2004 15:34 GMT

David Blunkett today published his draft bill paving the way for a compulsory UK ID card, and reports over the weekend claimed that cabinet opposition had drawn some of the scheme's fangs, the draft suggests that it will be more extensive than expected in several key areas.

According to the Sunday Times, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has secured agreement that it will never be mandatory to carry a card, that a Commons vote will be required before police can require a card's production, and that it will not be necessary to produce a card in order to obtain hospital treatment or welfare benefits. Speaking this morning however Blunkett disputed this, pointing to sections 15-18 of the draft as giving the necessary clearances. This section indeed makes provision for public services to hinge on ID cards, but specifically rules out the compulsion to carry it at all times or produce it for police. How long this will last is perhaps another matter.

Blunkett is however pitching the scheme far more widely than simply as an entitlement, immigration, crime or terror control mechanism. Rather, it is intended as the cornerstone of identity and identity-management in the UK. The draft bill covers the setting up of a national identity register, which is described as "the key database of personal information which the biometric cards would link to," and envisages the creation of "a 'family' of ID cards, based on designated existing and new documents."

This suggests far broader purposes than simply identifying individuals, and the Home Office announcement makes no bones about this: "ID cards will help tackle the type of serious and organised crime which depends on being able to use false identities - terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud through ID theft, and illegal working and immigration. They will also enable people to access services more easily, and prevent access to those with no entitlement. And crucially, the cards will help people live their everyday lives more easily, giving them a watertight proof of identity for use in daily transactions and travel."

The extent of the ID card's utility in dealing with false identity is at the very least somewhat slighter than Blunkett would have us believe, and its usefulness in dealing with ID fraud in commercial areas is dependent on whether or not it is used as strong ID there, and on the necessary equipment to validate the ID being present. An ID card with your fingerprints on it, for example, is of no protection to you in cases of 'cardholder not present' fraud (and it certainly useless in the Internet), and doesn't stop someone intercepting your mail and signing up for credit cards in your name. If we were just talking about a piece of government ID issued for government purposes only, then that would be OK - but here we're talking about "watertight proof of identity for use in daily transactions and travel." So we're not - Blunkett is really talking about something that will need substantially more networked checking points than something that was just 'son of passport', and about a lot more data, accessed by a lot more different government and non-government organisations, held centrally. And if it leads to more data on the card itself that can be used without further and/or biometric validation, then the cards themselves will tend to become more worth stealing.

This is surely recklessly ambitious. More so because Blunkett still shows little sign of having a sound grasp of the actual capabilities of ID systems. This morning, for example, he told Today that ID cards "couldn't solve Madrid [the bombings] because nobody has biotechnology today." In the cases of both 9/11 and Madrid the attackers appear to have had valid ID, so biometric valid ID is neither here nor there, but despite having had this put to him by numerous interviewers Blunkett seems unable to stop presenting biometrics as some kind of magic. He went on to explain the situation of countries who didn't have biometric ID: "Those without biometrics will be known as the easiest touch. That's why we need to be ahead."

The logic of this situation, that those countries where it is easier to obtain ID can be used by terrorists to establish valid ID which can then be used to visit and bomb the UK, seems to elude him. The Home Office does have schemes for biometric ID for non-UK passport holders in the UK, and is already fingeprinting asylum seekers and some visa applicants, but the scheme as announced today actually rules out biometrics for visitors who are staying less than three months. Which would seem to suggest that terrorists on an awayday are entirely immune to the £3.1 billion biometric checking regime.

The roadmap as presented by Blunkett yesterday is as follows. Following the publication of the draft there will be "further consultation including opening up technical issues and inviting a development partner from the private sector", then a full bill will be introduced in the autumn session. Biometric passports will appear within three years, and "as we're putting this on a clean database this will not be forgeable." Foreign nationals will be brought into the scheme "as quickly as possible" and "we're hoping people will want voluntarily to renew their passport early" (not at those prices mate, so we can expect some special incentive discounts on the £73 for a passport), "so within seven years we will start to move to the position where people across the population have got an ID card." The Home Office itself today published a target of 80 per cent of the economically active population by 2013.

Privacy International described the scheme as "draconian and dangerous," pointing out that the draft gave the Home Secretary wide powers to disclose identity-related information to a range of authorities, including police, Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise, can order a person to register for an ID card, and can even have them registered against their will if the necessary data is already known. A range of new offences including failure to notify of a damaged or defective card, and failure to report a change of address, is also introduced. The Home Secretary (i.e. Blunkett) "has the power to make Orders to change almost every element of the proposed system." It is, says Privacy International director Simon Davies, "a disgrace to democracy." ®

Related links

Draft bill and consultation
Privacy International release
UK public wants ID cards, and thinks we'll screw up the IT
Fingerprints as ID - good, bad, ugly?
ID cards: a guide for technically-challenged PMs

Privacy International


Privacy International's response to the Draft Identity Cards Bill

" Draconian and dangerous"

26 April 2004

For immediate release


The watchdog group Privacy International today reacted with disbelief to the publication of the government's draft Bill on identity cards.

Privacy international's Director, Simon Davies, described the draft legislation as "draconian and dangerous".

He said the Bill had the potential to permanently change Britain for the worse. Of particular concern are the following provisions:

  • The Secretary of State is empowered at will to disclosed identity related information to a range of authorities including police, Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise. (s.20)
  • The Secretary of State is empowered to order a person to register for an ID card (s.6(1)), and where the relevant data is known can register the person without consent (s.2(4)). If the person does not comply, an offence will be committed under s.6(4).
  • The Secretary of State can make an Order at any time for universal compulsion to register (s.7)
  • The Bill provides for the collection of all file and registration numbers and links these to a central national number. This will permit all arms of government to access personal information (s.4(g))
  • The Bill creates a score of new offences including refusal to obey an order from the Secretary of State, failure to notify authorities about a damaged or defective card, failure to notify the Secretary of State of any change in personal circumstances - including change of address, failure to obey an order to register and providing false information. Penalties range from £1,000 fine to two years imprisonment, with maximum ten-year imprisonment for possession of forged documents. A penalty of up to £2,500 can be levied for failure to attend an appointment for a biometrics scan (s.6(4)). This fine can be repeated for every subsequent failure to attend (s.6(6)).
  • Many of the new offences will be prosecuted as a civil matter by the Secretary of State, who will also decides on appeals against the penalties he imposes (s.34).
  • The Secretary of State has the power to make Orders to change almost every element of the proposed system. This includes the minimum age of a cardholder (currently 16), the information on the card, the uses for the card and the organisations empowered to use it.

Mr Davies described the legislation as a "disgrace to democracy". He predicted that the proposals would be defeated in the Lords, and that they would meet with overwhelming public opposition.

Response to draft ID Card Bill
26 Apr 2004


The Government is proposing the introduction of an ID card for all British Citizens over a nine year period. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has made clear that he favours a compulsory card but the Prime Minister’s ‘official spokesman’ has made it clear that no decision on compulsion will be taken for at least another nine years.

As Mr Blunkett argues that without ID, Britain will be a ‘soft touch for terrorists’ it must be assumed that the Prime Minister’s spokesman does not share his sense of urgency.

Liberty believes that the notion that an ID card will deter a potential suicide bomber to be quite ridiculous as the tragic events in Madrid earlier this year demonstrated. Spain has a compulsory ID scheme and the men believed responsible for the bomb attack all had authentic cards.

The reason for the long delay is partly explained by the opposition of at least five Cabinet members to the proposal. Several ministers are known to believe that the creation of a national data base would seriously undermine the privacy of the individual and feas that ethnic minority groups could well be subjected to repeated demands from the authorities to display their ID card.

The most recent opinion poll shows a large majority in favour of a card but also indicated nearly 60% changing their minds if they would have to pay for the card – which they would. It also indicates over 50% having little faith in the Government’s ability to manage such a large data base.

This is what the pollsters call ‘soft support’ and whilst we in no way underestimate the difficult task facing us we remain convinced that this proposal can be defeated, as similar proposals in the past have been.

UK: "The Government intends to introduce, a national compulsory ID cards scheme using an individual biometric identifier linked to a new national database" - David Blunkett, Home Secretary

- to fight "terrorism" and give "the freedom to do easily things like travel to Florida on holiday"
- David Blunkett, Home Secretary

The quotes above are how the UK government presented the idea that UK citizens - who have never had ID cards in the whole of their history except during the Second World War - should accept the idea of compulsory ID cards.

The government today (26 April) published a 120 page document, including a draft Bill, to introduce "voluntary" ID cards (which are not voluntary if you have to get a new passport or driving licence) and in the long-term for compulsory ID cards for everyone resident in the UK. The Home Office says it is intended to start the scheme in 2007-2008 but is silent on the "second stage" when most of the population will have either a passport-ID card or a driving licence-ID card. Estimates are that is likely to take at least 10 years, ie: 2017, see:
Report *

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, makes the following initial comments:

"This Bill seeks to cynically exploit peoples' fears over terrorism when the government knows that ID cards will do little or nothing to stop it.

ID cards will be compulsory for everyone who renews their passport or driving licence after 2007 and for those "prescribed" by the Home Secretary. Swingeing fines and imprisonment face those who refuse to "apply" if they are "prescribed" or for anyone refusing to allow their biometrics (eg fingerprints) to be taken from them.

As the details become public the opposition to living in a society where state and commercial surveillance becomes apparent is going to grow"

1. Biometric ID cards: It is going to be compulsory for everyone who renews their passport or driving licence after 2007 (clause 8.6) to have an ID card and to go to an "enrolment centres" and compulsorily have their fingerprints and photos taken. A person has to "apply" thus implying consent but have no choice. Failure to do so will be an offence bringing prison or large fines..

2. The term "prescribed description" of those required to register peppers the Bill. It could apply to failed asylum-seekers (as the consultation paper suggests) or to everyone over 16 or to everyone with a criminal offence or everyone arrested whether charged or not etc. The Secretary of State has the power to indefinitely extend the list of those required to register.

3. On a constitutional level the power to make ID cards compulsory (clause 7) is so substantial it should be subject to separate, future, legislation.

4. An extraordinary number of powers to extend the scope of the Bill are left to Statutory Instruments (secondary legislation) - where the government lays down an Order and unless even a majority of MPs and Peers object it goes through. Such powers should be strictly limited.

5. The powers to extend the use of an ID card to get access to public services (eg: health or education) in clause 15 should be the subject of separate legislation as it is beyond the primary scope of the Bill.

6. Clause 20 on "Disclosures without the consent of the registered individual" allows the "secret state", MI5, MI6, GCHQ, and all law enforcement agencies to have access to the data held. This will allow the agencies to conduct "fishing expeditions" by combining data from the Register with data from other sources such as passport and driving licences and commercial bodies like banks and credit agencies. This will cover "serious crime" as defined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) which includes "conduct by a large number of people in pursuit of a common purpose".

This power can be extended under clause 23 to any "description specified" by the Secretary of State.

7. One example being cited is that although the carrying of ID cards will not - for now - be compulsory it will be possible for police on the street to check on the spot the fingerprints of a person held on the National Identity Register.

8. A "National Identity Scheme Commissioner" is to be created under clause 25 who will be as "toothless" as all the other Commissioner appointed to monitor the surveillance of telecommunications and the intelligence and security agencies. There is not a single case on record where a complaint has ever been upheld by these "Commissioners".

9. The government briefing suggests - like the EU - that an important reason for biometric ID/passports is that the USA demands that you cannot go there unless you have one. If people want to go to the USA - a fraction of those who travel abroad - then they will have to consent to be possibly interrogated and have their fingerprints taken and it could be argued that this is their choice.

10. Contrary to media reportage the government's own briefing admits that the cost of a "combined passport/identity card" or a "combined driving licence/identity card" will cost between £73-£75.

1. Press release from: Privacy International
2. Statement by:
3. See: Statewatch: The history of ID cards in the UK

UK: Compulsory ID cards planned

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has announced that a Bill to introduce ID cards will be published in the next few weeks - which will include powers to make them compulsory without further legislation. Last week the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said there was no longer a civil liberties objection to the introduction of ID cards (see: Prime Minister says there is "no longer a civil liberties objection" to ID cards:
Report and background) The only time in British history that there have been ID cards was during the Second World War - they were finally withdrawn in 1952, see: Statewatch: The history of ID cards in the UK

There has allegedly been some disagreement in the Cabinet but only over the issue of making ID cards compulsory. Cabinet Ministers like Patricia Hewitt, Department of Trade and Industry, has reservations about compulsory cards but supports the introduction of biometric passports and biometric driving licences which would, in time, cover 80% of the population.

Lots of different dates have been bandied about in the press but it appears to be the government intention to get the Bill through parliament in 2005 and introduce the scheme in 2007 - people renewing their passports and driving licences will be issued with combined cards with biometric data (probably fingerprints and facial scans).

At the moment passports have to be renewed every ten years - though there are plans in the pipeline in the UK and EU - to reduce this to five years so as to incorporate regular updates to the biometrics and other personal data on the card. Every year in the UK five million passports are issued (including replacements for lost or stolen passports). If a rolling programme is introduced it will probably take at least 10 years for every passport to be replaced.

The replacement of driving licences is even more problematic. In the UK licenses are issued from the time of passing the driving test (usually between the ages of 17-25) up until the age of 70. There are EU plans for the "harmonised" renewal of licences every 10 years but the draft legislation was rejected by the European Parliament last week and a new proposal is unlikely before 2005. The only people at the moment for whom the scheme could be introduced are for young people passing the test for the first time, for stolen or lost licences, and for that most dangerous category of all - the over 70's. The great majority of driving licence-holders will have no need for a new one for decades.

It is therefore likely that it will be passport renewals that will drive this scheme which is unlikely to be complete before 2017.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"At the moment most passport renewals involve getting a picture taken in a photo-booth, filling in a form and sending both off with a cheque.

What is not realised is that this new scheme will require around five million people a year presenting themselves at "enrolment centres", bringing with them documents to prove they are who they are, checks will be carried out on an unspecified number of state and commercial databases, their fingerprints will be taken and then they will have to pose for a facial scan. The biometric data will then be added to the contactless micro-chip together with personal data.

The likelihood is that by the time this scheme is in full swing the same passport-ID card will contain a person's NHS health records and convictions for any offence and also be their bank and credit card. It is likely too that access to the data held on the card will be given to all law enforcement agencies, many state agencies (eg: welfare payments, tax and customs), employers, insurance companies, credit agencies and banks.

The only protection against the misuse and abuse of this mountain of personal data is the Data Protection Act which quite simply does not work because it lacks resources and real powers of enforcement - even the European Commission's belated review admits this.

This proposal has little or nothing to do with combating terrorism. The government is cynically exploiting public sentiment and fears to introduce a measure which has no place in a democratic society"






Commenting on the publication of the draft ID cards Bill, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Mark Oaten said:

"The Home Secretary is leading us towards an expensive and flawed piece of plastic. This will do little to tackle terrorism and the £3bn would be better spent on more intelligence and policing.  Costs are bound to escalate if expensive equipment is going to be installed in every post office, hospital and benefits office throughout the land. 

"The government promised the public a voluntary scheme in the first instance.  It is now clear that anyone who applies for a passport or driving license during the 'voluntary' period will be added to the ID cards register whether they like it or not.  This Bill would bring us within a hair's breadth of compulsory identity cards

"The Bill may not give the police new powers, but it will give them a powerful new tool for checking a suspect's identity and immigration status.  The potential for racial discrimination in policing and in public services like health and benefits is massive.

"David Blunkett's defence of his big idea is muddled and his arguments do not stand up to scrutiny.  It is time for politicians and the public to wake up to the dangers of this scheme, both to our pockets and our civil liberties.  The Conservatives in particular must make up their minds, because a cross-party coalition could defeat the government in the Lords."


10 reasons to oppose ID cards

1.         It will cost a fortune. The Home Office expects the cost to be at least £3bn over 10 years. Individual cards will cost £35, or £77 for a combined passport and ID card.  Costs are likely to be much higher depending on which public services insist on inspecting our ID cards before we access them - putting biometric card reading equipment in every post office, for example, would be hugely expensive.

2.         It will turn into another expensive IT fiasco. The government in general, and the Home Office in particular, has an appalling track record when it comes to large-scale IT projects. New systems at the Post Office, Passport Office, Probation Service, Police Service, Courts Service and Child Support Agency have all run massively over budget. The ID cards scheme would be the most ambitious and expensive public sector IT project ever undertaken. It has all the hallmarks of a disaster waiting to happen: no-one has spelt out what the cards are for and how they will achieve their objectives; it has been proposed in response to political events (notably 9/11) rather than a sober assessment of costs and benefits; building the system is complex and massively expensive; the cost estimates are vague and incomplete; and the project is reliant on new and untested technology.

3.         It will lead to discrimination and harassment. ID cards will undermine the contract between the police and the public, with many more people being stopped and required to identify themselves, or present their card at a police station at a later date. Given that the government wants the police to use the cards to detect more illegal immigrants and suspected al-Qaida terrorists, we can expect most of these stops to target black and Asian people. People seeking GP and hospital treatment will have to present their card. Again, the government's concern is to prevent so-called 'health tourism', so black and Asian people will have to run the gauntlet of identity checks while white people will not. Alternatively, everyone will have to prove their identity whenever they visit the GP (i.e. moving from a system based on trust to one based on distrust), which will quickly alienate the majority.  People who refuse to carry an identity card will be discriminated against - they will be denied access to public services like hospital treatment and benefits and also private services like banking and credit.

4.         It will create a bureaucratic nightmare. In order to make the ID card system work, there will be a new national database of everyone in the UK. This will contain everyone's name, address, age and gender. Hundreds of thousands of people in London alone change their address at least once a year. Many change their name through marriage or by deed poll. Even if an accurate database can be constructed, the errors will quickly mount up. Errors will result in people's cards being rejected and access to services being denied.  Similarly, people who forget to take their card (e.g. when collecting their pension) will be inconvenienced.  Centralising the many existing methods of proving identity sounds like a good idea, but in practice breakdowns in the system will have serious consequences for both convenience and security.  A successful attack on the system (e.g. over the internet) could paralyse the UKeconomy.

5.         Our personal data will be shared without our consent. Everyone will be given a unique number to identify them which will be encoded on the card. Other databases (for example store loyalty cards or medical records) will start to identify people using their unique number. Knowing the number could therefore allow someone to retrieve sensitive information about that individual from any number of other sources.  The potential for cross-referencing databases will be of great value to private companies in profiling consumers.

6.         It will encourage fraud.  Some benefit fraud may be prevented by requiring people to produce their card to claim benefits. However, most benefit fraud involves claimants misrepresenting their circumstances rather then their identity.  In practice, the value of the card as a strong guarantee of someone's identity across a range of valuable services will mean it will become a target for forgery by fraudsters, criminals and terrorists seeking to disguise their true identities. The government is taking the 'Titanic' approach to the technology by claiming that it is unforgeable - history suggests they will be proved wrong.

7.         It will not prevent illegal working. The Home Office wants to make it compulsory for people to present their card when applying for a job in the UK, and claims that this will prevent illegal working. But employers in industries with high levels of illegal labour are already required to check identity documents. The problem is that the Home Office doesn't inspect them to make sure they are following the rules. There were only 2 prosecutions for employing an illegal worker in 2002.  The fact that illegal immigrants will not be able to get ID cards will not change anything as long as there are unscrupulous employers and lax Home Office enforcement.

8.         It will not help to fight crime or terrorism. The police do not generally have a problem identifying people they arrest: the problem is in catching the criminals in the first place.  The Metropolitan police have stated that with the exception of identity fraud, they know of no evidence to show that ID cards will reduce crime.  ID cards would not present an obstacle to most terrorists either.  The terrorists who attacked New York on September 11th 2001 and Madrid on March 11th 2004carried valid identity cards. Knowing someone's identity does not necessarily help you to predict how they are going to behave.

9.         We do not have a written constitution. This means the government can get away with expanding the uses of the card and lowering the safeguards on data sharing. The relationship between the state and the citizen is not properly defined in law.  Every other country that has a system of compulsory identity cards also has a written constitution.  We will be passing a law on the understanding that this government will not use the system to spy on its citizens or restrict civil liberties - even if that were is true, can we be so trusting of future governments?

10.       The money would be better spent on other things.  If the government really wants to make an impact on crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, the £3bn it has earmarked for this scheme would be far better spent on more police and more intelligence officers for MI5 and the new Serious Organised Crime Agency.  £3bn could, for example, pay for 10,000 extra police officers for the next 6 years.