MPs warn ID cards could be used to spy on the public - The Scotsman
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MPs warn ID cards could be used to spy on the public
Published Date: 09 June 2008
By Michael Howie
Home Affairs Correspondent
THE UK government's controversial national identity card scheme could be used to mount surveillance operations on members of the public, a powerful committee of MPs has warned.
The home affairs select committee has voiced fears that the way the authorities use sensitive data gathered in the multi-billion-pound programme could "creep" to include spying.
The all-party committee also urged ministers to make plans on how to deal with the theft of personal details from the National Identity Scheme, which will build a massive database on every person aged over 16 in Britain.
The committee demanded that no expansion in the use of the data gathered for the ID scheme take place without MPs' approval.
"We are concerned... about the potential for 'function creep' in terms of the surveillance potential of the National Identity Scheme," the report said.
"Any ambiguity about the objectives of the scheme puts in jeopardy the public's trust in the scheme itself and in the government's ability to run it."
Under the scheme, everyone over the age of 16 who applies for a passport will have their personal details, including fingerprints and facial scans, added to a national identity register from 2011-12.
If Labour wins the next election, it will introduce legislation making it compulsory for every adult in the UK to have an identity card.
But public support for ID cards has been hit by last year's loss of 25 million personal details by HM Revenue and Customs.
Following that and other data loss scandals, the committee called on government to minimise the amount of information it collects on citizens.
"It should collect only what is essential, to be stored only for as long as is necessary," the report said.
Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, said there could be "potentially disastrous consequences" if data was mishandled.
Therefore, he said, the government should draw up a "broad outline of contingency plans" to deal with potential security breaches.
Responding to concerns that the government was jeopardising people's privacy, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said many people welcomed the use of devices such as CCTV cameras.
"I know that when, as it was then, the Labour-controlled council in my constituency funded CCTV cameras in the town centre to help to protect people when they wanted to go out and have a night out without being blighted by anti-social behaviour, people supported it.
"So I know, for example, with the DNA database that tens of thousands of crimes have been solved because of the use of the DNA database."
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP, said the report's warning about the dangers of databases falling into the wrong hands was a sufficient reason to scrap the plans.
"The Scottish Government should also look at their entitlements cards (for people using council services] as it potentially faces the same sort of problem," he said.
THE government has set out a timetable for the introduction of identity cards.
Here are the key dates:
2008 – Some non-EU nationals will have to get them.
2009 – Compulsory for 200,000 UK citizens and EU nationals who work in 'sensitive' airport jobs.
2010 – Voluntary scheme for students.
2011-12 – Biometric passports issued, applicants can choose to get ID card.
2017 – Full roll-out of identity cards.
[Captured: 09 June 2008 12:18:45]