Saturday, 8 March 2008

Compulsory ID cards may be for the chop, but the national database remains

The government has ditched plans to force people to get a biometric ID card when they renew or apply for a passport. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith also announced last week that any Parliamentary vote to make ID cards compulsory for British citizens will now be delayed until 2015.

But the government still intends to force foreign nationals living in Britain to register their biometric details on the National Identity Register and carry an ID card by the end of this year. ID cards will also be required by people working air-side at Heathrow and other high security risk areas from next year.

After that the target is students and young people, who will voluntarily have the option of registering for an ID card from 2010.

Anyone renewing or applying for a new passport from 2011 onwards will be required to add their biometric details to the National Identity Register.

So the part of the scheme which is most objectionable, the national database, is still to go ahead, while, experts assess, the skids are under the ID card. (Some of us would have found a simple, cheap, identity card, such as is carried in some continental countries quite useful.) The Register has already cost millions, will cost many more, is intrusive, prone to errors (judging by government performance in the last twenty years) and unsafe.

On the latter point, a government minister said that the system was secure because the register could not be accessed online. If this is so, then what is the point of having it? Perhaps the intention is to batch enquiries like the good old days of the original tape-based DVL system. Even this is only as secure as the people handling the enquiries.

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