Heated debate on ID cards in the UK

By EDRi · June 29, 2005

On 28 June the UK government narrowly won a vote on its identity card
proposals in the House of Commons, seeing its majority halved to just 31.
The previous day the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas,
expressed strong concerns over the government’s plans for a biometric
national identity card and database. He particularly criticised the
scheme’s “disproportionate and excessive” storage of personal information
and the wide range of uses that would “permit function creep into
unforeseen and perhaps unacceptable areas of private life”.

On 27 June the London School of Economics published “The Identity Project:
an assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and its implications”. The
report looks at the potential costs and benefits of the government’s
proposals, and finds that the scheme may be both more expensive and less
effective in targetting problems such as terrorism, illegal immigration
and identity fraud than the government has claimed.

The report is the outcome of a 6-month research project involving over 100
industry, government and academic experts. It has caused controversy in
the UK, with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary Charles Clarke
forced to dispute its detailed cost estimates of around 435 euro per card.
Behind this headline figure the report highlights a number of other
potential problems with the scheme, ranging from the untested technology
involved, the compatibility of the legislation with the European
Convention on Human Rights, to the risks of unauthorised access to the
scheme’s central database of personal information.

The UK Home Office has also finally published the results of a trial of
the technology to be used with the proposed card. 10.016 volunteers took
part, but even within this group of ID enthusiasts there were severe
problems with the biometrics that the government claim will make a card
totally secure. 10% of non-disabled participants and 39% of disabled
participants were unable to have their irises stored. 4% of non-disabled
participants and 9% of disabled participants could not have their irises
checked against a stored record. The fingerprints of 20% of participants
could not be checked. These results would be disastrous in a national
scheme that included over 50 million adults.

All of these problems mean that there is likely to be extremely strong
opposition when the Bill reaches the House of Lords, where the government
does not have a majority. The Lords could force the government to delay
the Bill for at least a year.

ID cards ‘will reveal details of daily life’ (28.06.2005)

LSE report The Identity Project

UK passport service biometrics enrolment trial (May 2005)

(Contribution by Ian Brown, board member EDRI)