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18 October, 2005

Reverse function creep

NØ2IDPerhaps surprisingly, the Home Secretary seems to have responded favourably to many of the concerns associated with national ID cards.  I suppose it can be seen as compromise to get the troubled Bill though it's third (and final) reading in Parliament, but still, it's to his credit.

The key points are:

  • The ID card database will contain no more personal information than is already held on passports: name, date & place of birth, gender, address, nationality and immigration status.
  • Additional personal details, such as health or criminal records cannot be added at a later date without fresh primary legislation.
    That doesn't eliminate function creep (primary legislation might be slipped through fairly easily), but it prevents it happening 'casually', or by default.
  • Furthermore, the register cannot include identifying numbers linking cards to different databases of personal details. For example, the card cannot include a personal code for the police national computer or an NHS number which might enable a cross-check to be made with medical records.
    Intuitively, that seems to be of limited relevance – there doesn't seem to be any mechanism to prevent passport/ID card numbers themselves being linked to police or health records.
  • Individuals will have access to their entries in the ID database and the record of which organisations have used them.
    That sounds like standard Data Protection practice, not a new selling point.
In addition to these confirmed items, ministers plan to explicitly separate the ID cards register and police national computer, so that those accessing the former cannot determine whether an individual has a criminal record logged on the latter.

Of course, the extremely obvious question is that if the ID card database will hold no more information that already on a passport, why not abandon ID cards altogether and stick with passports alone? What's the point of the ID card register?
So far as I can see, either too much political capital has been invested, and the government can't face the embarrassment of abandoning the scheme (please do – I'd have more respect for a climbdown than stubbornness), or there's more to the register than the public is being told.

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