Am I the only individual on the planet who was surprised at the press response to the recent announcement by the Home Secretary that the ID Card would not be compulsory? As far as I know, ID Cards were never going to be compulsory until Parliament voted for compulsion. So what’s new?
The press coverage has overlooked the fact that the privacy problems lie not with the ID Card but with its related database, the National Identity Register (NIR). The NIR is now being integrated with the passport system, so that when you apply for a passport (and say “no thanks” to the ID Card, perhaps), an entry in the NIR relating to you will still be made. Section 9 of the ID Card Act 2006 can provide for a civil penalty not to update your NIR details (e.g. when you move address), and the personal data will still be shared by diverse public bodies without consent of the individual concerned. As the police and national security agencies can have access to all the NIR (including the audit trail), then applying for a passport and the obligation to keep details up to date is almost the equivalent of registering your new address with most law enforcement bodies.
The NIR is also growing from the 50 or so items of personal data originally identified. The “Identity Cards Act 2006 (Information and Code of Practice on Penalties) Order 2009” requires the “particulars of every person who has been named as a referee by the individual on an application for an ID card or a designated document, so far as those particulars were included on the application” to be added to the NIR. This infers the existence of a cross-linking functionality (e.g. between records on the NIR) applies to all those who guarantee that a photograph of an individual is a likeness of that individual.
The “Identity Cards Act 2006 (Prescribed Information) Regulations 2009” also requires that the (voluntary) ID Card contains a record of “the individual’s ten fingerprints” – which of course implies that the NIR will keep a record of all ten fingerprints. Pause for a moment: what will most people think when asked for all fingerprints? If individuals think that DNA of the innocent should not be retained by the police, will they have the same reaction when asked for all ten fingerprints (retained for the lifetime of the citizen on the NIR) when obtaining their passport?
The “Identity Cards Act 2006 (Provision of Information without Consent) Regulations 2009” permit disclosure to a number of public sector bodies in a way that lowers the thresholds established by the Data Protection Act. For example, the Department for Work and Pensions can obtain personal data “for the functions of the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of offences relating to social security”. This means that the test in Section 29 of the Act is not applied (i.e. the test of failure to disclose personal data prejudicing an investigation); instead the test is whether the disclosure just relates to the investigatory function (without any test of prejudice).
Consider also that the National Identity Card Commissioner has not yet been appointed. The legislation was enacted in 2006, yet there is no regulator to offer advice on the content of these regulations. In summary, regulations are being enacted to extend the NIR in ever expanding directions using procedures that minimise scrutiny by Parliament in the absence of a Commissioner who is supposed to protect individuals. Combined, this sends the message that privacy and data protection is still NOT an important consideration.
Finally, the use of the word “voluntary” in relation to the ID Card scheme, as widely reported in the press, really jars. The Home Secretary said: “Holding an identity card should be a personal choice for British citizens - just as it is now to obtain a passport. Accordingly, I want the introduction of identity cards for all British citizens to be voluntary”. So obtaining a passport is a voluntary personal choice is it?
What do think would happen if I made a choice not to have a passport and turned up at the Channel Tunnel wanting to go to France? This meaning of “voluntary” is not in my dictionary.