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ID card scheme an expensive flop

FOR IMMEDIATE USE: 26 April 2004

Home Office ID plans are an expensive, invasive mess that would do little to fight terrorism


The Home Office has today published plans for a compulsory national ID card scheme. Its 120-page consultation document again contains no evidence that the scheme will help prevent terrorism or illegal immigration. But it is full of evidence that the scheme will cost many billions of pounds that might be better spent on targeted investigations by the intelligence agencies and police.

The card has great potential for invading UK citizens' privacy. It will be used to link together a large number of government and private sector databases. Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue will have access to the central government database. The card will also be required by financial institutions, airlines and a range of other companies. In turn the government will be able to require access to information from any person or organisation to verify ID card information.

An "audit trail" will be created in a government database every time the card is checked. This trail will show every organisation that has checked an individual's card, allowing information held by those organisations to be accessed under other government powers or court order. The audit trail can be accessed for a range of purposes including the investigation of crime committed by a large number of people in a common purpose — such as GM crop protestors. This information can be stored indefinitely.

The Home Office claims that cards will cost around 35 per card, but this is an underestimate that is likely to balloon upwards. Independent experts have already calculated that this cost is likely to be upwards of 75 per card. It would be almost unprecedented for such a large government IT project to be completed at anywhere near the original cost estimates.

Expensive card readers will also be needed in every organisation that will check cards: these costs will be passed on to users of those services. 48% of those recently surveyed by MORI were not willing to pay anything for a card.

For this and more principled reasons, the government obviously expects there to be a very significant number of UK citizens objecting to a compulsory scheme. The Home Secretary will be able to impose direct fines of up to 2,500 for several offences under the Act, bypassing the safeguards of the courts. He will be able to repeatedly impose fines of 2,500 on those who refuse to apply for a card or miss an appointment to have their fingerprints and irises scanned.

However, the draft legislation provides a flexible way for the government to avoid embarrassment over failures or abuse of the scheme. Any sections of the annual report on problems can be censored by the Prime Minister if they would affect "the continued discharge of the functions of any public authority".

Ian Brown, Director of FIPR, commented: "It is unfortunate that the Home Office is fixated on ID cards when there are many more workable measures that could be taken to fight terrorism. We can only hope that the Cabinet members that have opposed these plans take this last opportunity to stop this legislation going forward."

Contact for enquiries:

Ian Brown
Director
Foundation for Information Policy Research
ian@fipr.org
07970 164 526 (from outside the UK: +44 7970 164 526)

Notes for editors

  1. The Foundation for Information Policy Research (http://www.fipr.org) is an independent body that studies the interaction between information technology and society. Its goal is to identify technical developments with significant social impact, commission and undertaken research into public policy alternatives, and promote public understanding and dialogue between technologists and policy-makers in the UK and Europe.
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