UK Information commissioner criticises ID-card
In an interview with The Times newspaper on 16 August, the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has warned against the danger of ‘sleepwalking into a surveillance society’, as a result of ID cards and other plans. Mr Thomas said he was also uneasy about plans for a population register and a database of every child. He used General Franco’s Spain as an example of what can happen when a state knows too much about its citizens.
Thomas said, although he is not for or against an ID card scheme itself,he was concerned about the government’s failure to spell out their exact purpose. “The government has changed its line over the last two or three years as to what the card is intended for. You have to have clarity. Is it for the fight against terrorism? Is it to promote immigration control? Is it to provide access to public benefits and services?”
On 30 July 2004, a UK parliamentary committee wrote a similarly critical report and concluded that objections against the ID-card should not be lightly dismissed and that the proposed scheme to introduce biometric identity cards will ‘represent a significant change in the relationships between the state and the individual in this country.’
Literally the Commissioner told The Times: “My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society where much more information is collected about people, accessible to far more people shared across many more boundaries, than British society would feel comfortable with.”
According to an online BBC news item, a spokesman for the Home Office said the government remained committed to its plans for national identity cards which would, among other things, protect people against identity fraud and organised crime.
Mr Thomas also questioned the plans for a childrens database, championed by Margaret Hodge, Minister of State for Children. Mrs Hodge already won the Big Brother Award on 28 July 2004 as ‘Worst public servant’ for the plan. Under the scheme, every child would have a unique number which would enable the different organisations that come into contact with children, such as social services, police and educational bodies to share information.
Mr Thomas told the Times: “There are reasons why we need to promote better information sharing where children are at risk, but whether the answer is to create a database of every child in the country should be questioned.”
Interview in The Times (requires registration)
Watchdog’s Big Brother UK warning (16.08.2004)
UK Parliamentary Committee Releases Report Damning ID System (30.07.2004)