The controversial Identity Cards Bill has now had its Second Reading in the House of Lords, and now moved to the Lords Committee stage, the timing of which depends on whether or not the Prime Minister Tony Blair calls a General Election for the 5th May as widely expected.
The debate was poorly attended, and rather short, giving the impression that the Government is just "going through the motions"
The Government's "justifications" for the Bill still make dismal reading, as do the perorations of some Labour Peers.
The London School of Economics report The Identity Project: an assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and its implications (.pdf) seems to have had an impact on the debate, such as it was, and there was an extraordinary attack on the NO2ID Campaign from the Labour Baroness Gibson, who finds the use of a Post Office box on a "glossy and extremely well produced" leaflet is somehow evidence that NO2ID is a "sinister" organisation.
Since this Second Reading has not been extensively reported by the mainstream media or by other bloggers, here are some thoughts on the debate:
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal):
"Current means of identification are simply not secure or reliable enough. This was pointed out clearly in Identity Fraud: A Study, published by the Cabinet Office in 2002."
That would be the document, which the Home Office has abused many times, by falsely claiming that the guesstimates in Annex B somehow "prove" that "Identity fraud" costs the UK economy £ 1.3 billion a year ?
Identity Fraud: A Study (.pdf) does not recommend that a centralised biometric database and ID card would actually reduce "Identity Fraud":
"Some overseas countries use identity cards as part of their counter-fraud strategy. An identity card is only as secure as the processes used to issue it and the safeguards employed against counterfeiting and theft. In the US, where the social security number and associated card have, through use and custom, become the de facto unique identifier and identity card, identity theft is rife."
"Countering identity theft and fraud requires an overarching strategy to make the issue of documents used as evidence of identity and the issue of unique identifying numbers more secure, to counter the use of counterfeit and stolen documents and to detect and prosecute identity fraudsters. Tackling just one of these areas will not yield significant dividends."
"Photographic identity documents are increasingly required in a wide range of circumstances; for example, by low-cost airlines, even for domestic flights. That creates problems for people, often elderly people, who do not have a current passport or photo-card driving licence. Identity cards will fill the gap."
Why on earth are passports, ID Cards or photid needed for internal flights ? It is because of the "seat auction" systems used by some airlines, who greedily resent selling a cheap seat to someone who manages to sell it on at a premium to other people. Simply demanding the actual individual credit card that was use to purchase the ticket. is sufficient to prevent this, and not all airlines operate this way, e.g. British Airways.
"We cannot stand still in the knowledge of the threats that we all face from identity fraud. Not only does it cost the country an estimated £1.3 billion per year,"
The Government keeps repeating this bogus claim, which simply does not stand up if you bother to read their own guesstimates.
"We have also been advised that more than one third of terrorist suspects are known to have used false identities."
The unspoken implication whenever this line is trotted out by Nu Labour politicians is that these "up to one third, up to 35%" or whatever of "false" or "multiple" identities used by "terrorists" or "serious organised criminals" or now just "terrorist suspects" are using British identities.
How many of the "multiple identities" are perfectly legal multiple identities e.g. dual Irish Republic and United Kingdom or dual French and Algerian citizenship ?
If 35% of the world's terrorists are using false British identities, then the Home Office Ministers in charge should resign on the grounds of incompetence, and there should be intensive investigations into probable corruption.
Even with a perfect UK ID card system, even on the Government's own guesstimate, over Two Thirds
of terrorists/criminals/terrorist suspects will still not be affected or "disrupted" since they will presumably still be operating under their own identities without getting caught, as they do now.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen:
"I now turn to some of the briefings that I have received on the Bill from different organisations. I particularly welcome those from both sides of industry. The TUC has raised questions about Clause 31, which covers tampering with the national identity register. I know that my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall is to expand on these
concerns in his speech today. Of course, those of us on this side of the House who worked in and for the trade union movement will recognise those concerns and will listen carefully to the responses of my noble friend the Minister."
We can claim a small amount of credit for alerting the Trades Union Congress to this issue
"One briefing about which I am most suspicious is that from the "NO 2 ID" campaign,"
N.B. she actualy enunciated "Number 2 ID"
"whose address is a Post Office box number in Marylebone High Street. Rarely have I received such objectionable and misleading information. It is a great pity that this group of individuals has taken time to print and circulate such information, hiding behind a PO box number. The only named person is a "national co-ordinator", although what and who he is co-ordinating is not clear. I find this worrying piece of literature far more sinister than the proposals to which the authors object."
This is utter rubbish. Presumably she is ignorant of the NO2ID website, which lists all this information and more. Compared with the Home Office spin machine, NO2ID operates on a tiny shoestring budget, probably less than the salary of one of the Home Office ID Card spin doctors, hence the PO Box.
Lord Lea of Crondall
"My second point relates to Clause 31. The TUC is concerned that Clause 31 could raise the possibility of criminal sanctions being applied against people who lawfully took part in industrial action. Clause 31 creates criminal offences relating to tampering with the national identity register that are punishable with imprisonment for up to 10 years. I would like the position to be put on the record.
The clause suggests that anyone whose job involves maintenance of the register, accessing or retrieving information, or facilitating access to or retrieval of information from the register could be committing an offence by participating in otherwise lawful industrial action. Clause 31(3) makes it clear that the offence covers conduct which,"makes it more difficult or impossible for such information to be retrieved in a legible form from a computer on which it is stored . . . or contributes to making that more difficult or impossible".
Clearly, industrial action by civil servants and others with responsibility for administering the register, on the face of it, could be covered by that provision. I have given notice to the Minister of that point, and I seek clarification, on the record, that that interpretation, which is causing concern, is not reasonable, and that civil servants and others who are involved with the administration of the scheme would not be made liable, should their industrial action make it difficult or impossible for information to be retrieved, as described in Clause 31(3)."
This badly drafted Clause 31 was not debated or amended at all in the House of Commons.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I first of all declare an interest as a paid-up member of NO2ID. That organisation, together with Liberty, gives out information about ID cards and the dangers to individual liberty that might be associated with the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, described the organisation as "sinister". I must say that that is the first time that I have ever been described as sinister.
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I have been described as lots of things, but never sinister. If an organisation doing what I believe it is doing is sinister, we have come to a pretty pass.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I did not describe him as sinister; I described the organisation as sinister. I think that any organisation is sinister when it hides behind a PO box number and sends out lots
of literature to all of us but does not state who it is and what it really stands for.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, an organisation is made up of members. If you describe the organisation as sinister, it follows that those people who belong to it are tainted with the same brush. I cannot answer the point of the noble Baroness about
the PO box number. It may be that the organisation is not very well financed and does not have the money to set up an office. That may be why it uses a PO box number. I do not want to get stuck on the point, but the noble Baroness may ask another question.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I have before me the organisation's literature, which is glossy and extremely well produced. It has not been cheaply produced.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I do not know about the finances, but it may be that there are people who are so concerned with individual liberty that they are prepared to finance such documents, glossy or not. In any event, I am a member of it, and I am glad
to be a member of it.
When I was a member of the Labour Party - I was a member for more than 50 years before I was expelled - I was always brought up to believe that ID cards and central registers were the tools of dictators and racists. Now it appears that that has all changed.
I also associated with people who were proud to be called libertarians. I always have been and am still proud to be called a libertarian, because without such people we would not have any liberties in this country. They have always been under attack from one
source or another. So let me declare again that I am proud to be a libertarian.
It used to be the case that everyone believed that government was there to serve the people, but the new Jacobinism - if I can call it that - is turning that dictum on its head and sees people as the creatures and servants of the state. Osama bin Laden must be laughing his head off as he sees our Government using him as a bogeyman to
undermine our traditional freedoms and democratic rights on the pretext that it is the only way to keep our people safe from terrorism. Yet even as those traditional individual rights and freedoms are being whittled away here in the United Kingdom,
the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have the temerity to lecture other countries on the subject of democracy."
"I am glad that the Bill is unlikely to make any further progress if a general election is to be held on 5 May, and I implore the Government to think long and hard before introducing it again in the new Parliament."
We tend to agree with Lord Stoddart
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: (Government Minister)
"The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested that we need to pilot biometric identity cards. I hope that noble Lords remember that I said earlier that we have already carried out a biometric enrolment pilot involving 10,000 people enrolling face, finger and iris biometrics. A report on that trial will be published in due course"
Why has this not already been published ?
This "trial" was not designed to test the Biometrics, only some of the business processes around
registration. 10,000 self selected volunteers is not a valid trial for a system that will need to cope with 60 million people.
It would be criminal to draw planning conclusions for a multi billion pind project on such a tiny sample.
"The noble Lord asked whether people would need proof of address. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, also raised the issue. To establish both identity and entitlement, applicants will be asked to provide their current address and a history of addresses. That is most likely to be over the past six years unless there are particular reasons for needing more information; for instance, if someone has lived abroad. The addresses will be checked during the footprint check, and if discrepancies are identified, they will be discussed at the meeting. An inability to provide proof of an address will not prevent people being registered on the national identity register.
Clause 43(10) gives power to make regulations on circumstances in which places can be regarded as an individual's address. That is likely to be used to allow students, travellers and homeless people to provide a contact address. Those issues are dealt with in relation to the Bill."
This is the first time that the Government has given any details about the requirements for address history. Who decided on "the past six years" ? Who was consulted on this ?
What are the implications of this statement for the validity period of an ID Card ? Presumably it would be strange to only ask about the last six years, if the validity period for an ID Card or Passport
remains at 10 years. Does this imply that the idea of reducing the validity period for a Passport from 10 down to only 5 years is now beyond the ideas stage ? i.e. double the cost and double the registration enrollment costs and loss of earnings or holiday.
"It was difficult to say exactly to what extent an identity card scheme contributes to preventing or frustrating terrorism because identity cards have been long-established in Spain, so there is no comparison. However, the police believe that ETA terrorists have been marginalised and driven to reside outside Spain because they can be identified."
So why are the "known" terrorists in Northern Ireland sucessfully margininalised without such an intrusive scheme ?
"The Spanish police state that they have identified nearly all the terrorists involved in the Madrid bombings and that that was made significantly easier by their identity card scheme."
Given that most of these terrorists were Moroccans, presumably with Passports and entry visas and residence permits, some with existing criminal records, this hardly proves the case for a National Identity Card scheme.
"Identity cards were also used to identify the victims of the bombings quickly. So it is not just useful in identifying villains, but it can be incredibly useful in identifying victims."
Victims of crime or accidents are usually easily identified through the multiple contents of their wallets - credit cards, library tickets etc.
Under what possible circumstances would Yet Another Bit of Plastic make any real difference to the speed of identification of the dead or injured ? Are Ambulance and Accident and Emergency medical staff
going to be expected to waste time to take fingerprints or iris scans of their patients ?
"Conscious of the five points of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, that I have to deal with - which I shall do incredibly swiftly - I say to my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall and my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen that they are absolutely right in their analysis of Clause 31. I give them the assurance that they seek- I shall do so telegraphically because of time, and shall be quite happy to outline it more fully later."
The Government, presumably in trying to provide a sanction against Denial of Service Attacks, botched this clause in the Draft ID Card Bill, and made it worse in this Bill.
Why should the National Identity Register be different from other Critical National Infrastructure systems, where even a temporary Denial of Service could be life threatening ?
The outdated, pre-world wide web, Computer Misuse Act 1990 should be amended to protect all of these systems.
"Is the Home Office capable of making the cards work? The short answer is yes. The identity cards project is subject to regular scrutiny by the Office of Government Commerce, a gateway review process"
There is no evidence of that being true, especially as the Home Office and the TYreasury refuse to publish
these so called Gateway Reviews, even to the Home Affairs Committee or the Public Accounts Committee, or in response to Parliamentary Questions by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten.
They have also weaselled in respect to our Freedom of Information Act request for just the broad brush, high level Stage Zero Gateway Reviews, which do not contain any "commercially sensitive" information.
(Baroness Scotland of Asthal:)
"We do not believe that ID cards will pose a threat to civil liberties. The Identity Cards Bill will allow ID cards to be used by any service, public or private, to establish identity with the consent of the holder"
Rubbish. The Bill is full of powers for the Government to act without the consent of the holder.
"The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Baroness has skated over lots of things, all in a great hurry. Some of her points have been a little difficult to absorb. She seemed to imply that there was no need for her to read the LSE report because the Home Office had already considered matters in it. Did I hear her correctly? Will she explain why other government departments came to meetings when they were invited to by the LSE but the Home Office was either too busy or had other things to do and could not come?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, first, as I made absolutely clear, we will read the report and consider its findings as everyone has suggested. Secondly, throughout the passage of the Bill it has been clear that the Home Office has been assiduous in trying to ensure that, wherever possible, we or our officials have attended
meetings, engaged in consultation and given briefings. I do not know the history regarding the LSE but I can assure the noble Baroness that consultation is one thing on which we seem to have excelled on this Bill, as on so many."
The Home Office have also failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, within the statutory 20 days (it is now over 30 working days) regarding our request for the meeting diaries, agenda etc. of the Identity Cards Programme team.
"On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House. "
If or when theis Committee stage is timetabled for, depends on the General Election announcement and the "wash up" process.