The future of the UK’s identity card scheme was thrown into further confusion last night after it emerged that the Home Office is looking to scrap one of its key components – a national register of fingerprints.
Successive Home Office ministers have said fingerprinting will be a vital weapon in combating identity fraud and terrorism. But a confidential document produced by the Home Office Identity and Passport Service which has been obtained by The Observer states: ‘We should test for each group we enrol whether the cost of fingerprints is justified by the use to which they will be put.’
The implication that the scheme may prove too costly was immediately seized upon as proof of the government’s waning enthusiasm. The use of iris scans has already been quietly dropped.
Two points to make.
First, and possibly most important, is that the whole point of the scheme is to distinguish between us – it is after all an Identity scheme – and biometrics are pushed as the only way to do that. See for example someone like Home Office Minister Liam Byrne:
Biometric ID cards carry a single important advantage, which is that they lock the individual down to a single identity, so that such fraud becomes harder, if not impossible, in the future.
There were to be other ‘benefits’ from the fingerprint records too, such as having a database of fingerprints the police could trawl through. So it would be very interesting to see what uses they think might not be justified by the cost.
Second, why haven’t they made their minds up yet?
Will the messages sink in?
A senior Tory MP was forced to apologise “unreservedly” to Parliament today after an investigation recommended he be suspended for paying his “all-but-invisible” son £1,000 per month in taxpayers’ money.
The House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee was scathing about the £11,773 per year salary, plus bonuses, paid by Derek Conway to his son, Frederick, who was studying at Newcastle University at the time.
Recommending a 10-day suspension – and that Mr Conway apologise personally to the House – the committee said it was “astonished” to find there appeared to be no evidence of any aspect of Frederick’s work.
As well as his yearly salary, he also received four one-off bonuses between September 2005 and May 2007 totalling just over £10,000.
THE government faced a new data row this weekend after it emerged that HM Revenue and Customs has set up a secret “two tier” security system for online tax records giving extra protection to a small group of MPs, royals and other VIPs.
Although the HMRC denied that the security of its online computer system was in doubt, a spokesman admitted that there were “bad apples” in the organisation who could present a risk that data would be compromised.
Tax records contain home addresses, bank account details, national insurance numbers and details of savings and investments, all valuable to fraudsters.
And of course they are valuable to journalists too, as Nick Davies explains in Flat Earth News. Fundamentally there is a market for that information and people willing to participate in the market as suppliers.
Asked if the extra security measures meant that the department didn’t trust its own employees to deal with sensitive data, [the spokesman] said: “The system is secure. We do trust our own people but as with all things there are bad apples.”
She’s in a difficult position because of course she must say that her colleagues are trustworthy and that the system is secure. But clearly it is not 100% secure, in terms of the technology and the people who have access to it.
Is it not in the public interest, particularly the taxpayer’s interest in this instance, to be aware of how (in)secure it is? Joe Bloggs might think, as it happens there is someone after him and he’d like to be on the more secure ‘tier’.
SpyBlog’s concern about this comes through in a great (perhaps unwitting) gag:
It should be made clear to terrorists, that Members of Parliament, even members of the Government, who are supposedly serving the Public, not just themselves, are not a worthwhile target, since we, as a society will simply replace them democratically, whilst mourning any individual casualties.
Although I’m not sure about the mourning – perhaps that bit was sarcasm.
My headline is of course a quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which you should read if you haven’t already done so.
The Government is looking at using “coercion” tactics as a way of introducing the controversial ID card scheme, a leaked memo suggests.
The Home Office document said that young people could be made to apply for an ID card when they applied for a driving licence.
Gordon Brown has always insisted that ID cards would remain voluntary unless Parliament decided otherwise. But the latest memo headed “Options Analysis” suggests that officials are already thinking about how they can be made compulsory.
It states: “Various forms of coercion, such as designation of the application process for identity documents issued by UK ministers (eg, passports) are an option to stimulate applications in a manageable way.
“There are advantages to designation of documents associated with particular target groups, eg, young people who may be applying for their first driving licence.”
The document adds that “universal compulsion should not be used unless absolutely necessary”.
It’s in the Identity Cards Act, in the sections about designated documents and entries on the National Identity Register. A Minister can designate a document, for example a passport or driving licence, and when you apply for that document you will be entered on to the Register. Of course, if you don’t mind living an abnormal life (80% of UK population have passports, don’t know the figure for driving licenses) this enrolment is entirely ‘voluntary’.
Clearly it is preferable to coerce people into being enrolled as a side-effect rather requiring them to enrol as the primary goal.
Nice to have these underhand tactics being published though.