The second day of the House of Lord's Committee stage debate on the controversial Identity Cards Bill 2005 was notable for yet another "shoot the messenger" attack on the London School of Economics Identity Project report, and on Simon Davies personally, by the Home Office Minister Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, QC, Minister of State for the Criminal Justice System and Offender Management, aided by Baroness Corston.
Apparently, security through obscurity is what the Home Office is relying on as
"the hackers of the United Kingdom tend not to pore over the conversations reported in Hansard"
Foreign intelligence agency analysts and the professional legal advisers to serious organised criminals , however, do read Hansard, which is indexed by all the web search engines.
Baroness Scotland could not clarify the circumstances where the security services would have access to the National Identity Register.
Lord Bassam of Brighton repeated his complacent view about the alleged security of UK Government database systems, whilst yet again ignoring the fact that none of the existing systems are accessed by as many people and organisations as the National Identity Register will be.
Baroness Scotland did clarify the Government's thinking about the frequency of Address detail updates etc , but until suitable amendments appear and are accepted, her words are just vapour.
She also confirmed, that despite what Lord Bassam was repeating, that there would be indirect access to read, change or update data on the National Identity Registe via the Internet, with all the attendant risks which that implies.r
Why can't every aspect of the Bill have several paragraphs of detailed explanation as to how it might work in practice, like her speech about Addresses ? Why was this not already published in consultation documents and even in the Regulatory Impact Assessment or even the Explanatory Notes to the Bill ?
Baroness Scotland also mentioned "witness protection", but failed to give any clear protections for these or other people with legitimate needs for "false" identity details - impossible to do if biometric scanners become widespread.
Baroness Scotland also seemed to imply that there are plans to discriminate on the crude basis of age, in respect to how much inconvenience and risk of suspicion the NIR will subject people to.
Everybody, no matter their age, gender, ethnic background or religion, should be treated equally by this proposed system.
The Government actually lost the only vote in the session on this amendment:
9 Page 1, line 10, after "others" insert "who reasonably require proof"
The next Lords Committee debate will be on 23rd November.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal:
When the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, was dealing with the biometric data and the difficulties that he indicated, he concentrated on error rates of 30 per cent and inaccuracies of 1 per cent. Since those figures seem to have a remarkable similarity to the report issued by the London School of Economics, they probably come from the Italian study which was mentioned in that report. I am sure that the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong.
Biometric systems were designed for academic study not wide-scale industrial use. It would be better, as I indicated yesterday, to look at the US National Institute of Standards & Technology data, which were not referred to at any time in the London School of Economics report, as far as I am aware. It is highly unusual for an academic report from an institution of that standard to avoid or fail to identify this very important work. It is the world's leading institute for biometric trials. It has conducted a study with six million fingerprints and confirmed that biometrics was suitable for large-scale use. Indeed, the United States VISIT system uses biometrics for border control and it does not have a 30 per cent failure rate. So I think that we need to put these things into their proper context.
Is the NuLabour Government planning to treat British citizens to the level of intrusion and Kafkaesque bureaucracy which Mexican migrant workers to the USA are forced to endure ?
We still cannot find any Home Office publications which compare the costs and benefits of either the Mexican visa Border Crossing Card (10 fingerprints) or even of the US-VISIT system (two index fingerprints and a digital photo, no face recognition), with the far larger (at least 10 times the size) and more complicated multiple biometric proposed UK National Identity Register system.
We have some confidence that the kind of rigour with which we are approaching this issue is correct. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that the Government will use their best endeavours to ensure that the system that they put in place is the very best that can be provided and that it comes within our knowledge and expertise and the data currently
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available. However, my noble friend Lady Henig is right to remind the Committee that we already have a number of very complex systems where security is an issue—the national criminal records office being but one.
I heard what the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said about three police officers improperly using information obtained from the register. But it is important to bear in mind that, if they were officers, they would have used the very nature of their office to give them legitimate access and then they would have abused it. It does not mean that the national criminal records are themselves thereby corrupted; it means that impropriety of use has occurred and has been identified and those held responsible for it have been appropriately and properly arrested, dealt with and convicted. Of course, if anyone were responsible for a breach of duty, we would expect them to be dealt with similarly.
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Baroness Corston: While my noble friend is finding the appropriate place, perhaps I may comment on something she said earlier. I have been very dismayed at the degree to which noble Lords have referred to a particular report as the "LSE report". It was actually written by a Mr Simon Davies, who works for Privacy International, which is an international organisation that is violently opposed to identity card Bills and has opposed them in many countries. Mr Davies came to a meeting in the other place chaired by me a couple of years ago when the Government first mentioned identity cards.
It is true that Mr Davies is a visiting fellow of the LSE, but that is a different matter. Indeed, the present director of the LSE, Howard Davies, has confirmed that the document itself is not an official corporate document of the LSE. Perhaps we should start calling it the "Davies report".
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My noble friend is absolutely right: it is the Davies report. I am perhaps in error in calling it the London School of Economics report. That is how it has been referred to in the debate. It is an inaccurate reference. I do not want to cast any aspersions on the London School of Economics. I will certainly take my noble friend's stricture and from henceforth I will refer to it only as the "Davies report". So we have that clarity.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: For further clarification, at the beginning of the report there is a list of the members of an advisory group. Every one is associated with the London School of Economics: Professor Ian Angell, Professor Christine Chinkin, Professor Frank Cowell, Professor Keith Dowding, Professor Patrick Dunleavy, Professor George Gaskell, Professor Christopher Greenwood, Professor Christopher Hood, Professor Mary Kaldor, Professor Frank Land, Professor Robin Mansell, Professor Tim Newburn, Professor David Piachaud and Professor Robert Reiner. I understand what the noble Baroness says but, looking at the report and those who advised on it, I do not think that the Minister should be chided for her shorthand reference to the report as the "LSE report".
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Whether or not I should have been, I am quite happy to take the chastisement and will do as my noble friend has indicated
Such personal attacks on reputable academics and on the London School of Economics by a Minister protected by Parliamentary privilege are not acceptable.
This only highlights the utter lack of detail which the Home Office have made public about their plans, especially about the costs and impact of their scheme on areas outside of their direct control.
I should add a word or two in response to the comments made the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Selsdon, about hacking into the system. I at 16 Nov 2005 : Column 1093 no stage underestimate the ingenuity of the hacker. All I say, as a statement of fact and not an incitement for them to hack more successfully, is that to date the systems we have put in place appear to have been effective.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: How does the Minister know that? The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to criminal records and the person hacking in to the system and expunging his criminal record. The fact that nobody has been caught doing it does not mean to say that it is not done every day of the week.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have no evidence. As the noble Lord knows only too well as a criminal lawyer, one has to have evidence before one is entitled to make those comments. So, at the moment there is no evidence which would entitle me to say that this has been done. Therefore, I am not in a position to do so. The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, suggested that we might be throwing down the gauntlet, but of course, we have no intention of doing that. I am confident that we can be relatively sure that the hackers of the United Kingdom tend not to pore over the conversations reported in Hansard. I look forward to being proved wrong, but we should not hold our breath on that being the reality.
Rubbish ! The entire text of this debate with keywords, will soon be indexed and be accessible by the world wide web search engines.
"hackers" and computer security professionals do read Hansard, both in th UK and abroad..
So do professional foreign intelligence agents and analysts, and the professional advisers to organised serious criminals.
They, like everyone else have to try to sift the few nuggets of information from the torrent of words babbled by Government Ministers
The Earl of Northesk:
To reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and indeed, the Minister, much of my time in the House has been spent probing the very issues to which they referred. The noble Baronesses may be aware that doubts exist about whether the Computer Misuse Act is an effective measure against denial of service attacks on IT infrastructure and databases. I introduced a Private Member's Bill to attend to the problem a few years ago, which unfortunately did not receive the Government's blessing.
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I ought to make the point about the LSE report- I shall continue to call it that - that while it has informed my knowledge of the Bill, it is only one of a multitude of sources to which I have resorted to determine my views. The 36 per cent or so of data verification is quoted directly from research in the US and has nothing to do with Italian research. The other thing that I find strange about the LSE report is that it seems extraordinary that rather than dealing with the substance of the report the Government have often aimed to shoot the messenger
Baroness Scotland of Asthal:
In response to the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and others, no number that constitutes or tends to reveal sensitive data can be included. For that, one need only look at Clause 1(6), which makes clear that,
"the registrable facts falling within subsection (5)(g) do not include any sensitive personal data (within the meaning of the Data Protection Act 1998 (c.29)) or anything the disclosure of which would tend to reveal such data".
So, for example, the police national computer number could not be added. Voluntary information can only be added under Clause 3(2), if it is within a category set out by the Secretary of State in regulations. That is why, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, I talked about those things that we may add.
I cannot imagine what purposes would be served by keeping them on the register, but they would first have to be identified by the Secretary of State as being an appropriate group to add. They would then have to fall clearly within Clause 1(5) and we would then have an opportunity to vote on them. If they were then so added, someone could, voluntarily, add any information to the register which was contained within that new format.
Clear ? No.
Lord Lyell of Markyate:
I am asking: are we not in a position where a huge amount of information may be built up and kept on this register not only as to the accurate answers, which all seem perfectly straightforward and bland when one looks at Clause 1(5), but all the other things that were said perhaps by unreliable individuals in response or as part of their efforts to obtain an identity card or in relation to other things which were discovered by those who were properly, as permitted by the Bill, checking up on the validity of this information under paragraph 7(d) of Schedule 1? It seems to me that in relation to an individual who is being less than candid or is making some foolish mistakes, a substantial dossier might be built up which would subsequently be used by, or might seem to be valuable to, those who are seeking to cross-question the individual about something else.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I understand what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, is advocating and I can see why he is expressing an element of concern. The use to which the security services and others would put this information is in verifying the identity of the individual. I am by no means clear—I will therefore seek to obtain the information -- about whether the security services, which as the noble and learned Lord will know will be dealing primarily with terrorism and such, will have total access to all information on the database. As noble Lords will know, Clause 11 creates the power to require information from other
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databases, and information provided may be cross-checked. This may include a wide range of checks, but the whole issue of the extent to which the security services may have access to the register is quite complex. The noble Lord has therefore raised an interesting and important point. I will certainly write to him. We may need to come back to this issue and clarify the position.
The whole question of access to the NIR by the security services is one which needs far more safeguards than there are at present in the Bill. We are not re-assured by the plan to dump the oversight task onto the already obscure and relatively powerless Intelligence Services Commissioner, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Furthermore -- this is a very important point -- he Data Protection Act, and in particular the seventh data protection principle, imposes already a statutory obligation on us to ensure that the appropriate technical measures are taken in order to secure the safety of the register. That is spelt out very clearly in
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the seventh data protection principle and is also made clear in Section 4(4) of the Data Protection Act 1998, which states:
"Subject to Section 27(1), it shall be the duty of a data controller to comply with the data protection principles in relation to all personal data with respect to which he is the data controller".
So it is implicit already in legislation that we should comply with that principle. The amendment adds no more to that obligation.
Perhaps I may go into some of the detail of the issues that have been raised -- the question of hacking and so on. The national identity register is not physically connected to the Internet or any publicly available network. The security control procedures designed to connect the NIR to application handling and identity verification systems are some of the most sophisticated currently available. These safeguards are designed to provide a defence in depth, as we have heard before, through distributed security architecture and are considered unlikely to be vulnerable to external attack while under appropriate management, audit and security operating procedures.
It should be noted that to date -- I know we have made this point before but it is important that it should be recorded again -- there has not been a single recorded security breach or compromise of a government database which is protected in the same manner as that designed to protect the national identity register. No applicant or card holder information is ever transmitted in a manner that could expose it to the risk of interception or compromise. An advanced cryptographic and intrusion prevention scheme has already been designed to protect the supporting NIR communications infrastructure as part of the overall security architecture of the scheme. All security features designed to protect the NIR and supporting communications infrastructure have been developed in conjunction with the GCHQ's Communications-Electronics Security Group. The CESG, as it is known, is the Government's national technical authority for information assurance.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell referred to management issues. In essence, he drew our attention to the potential abuse that might occur by virtue of the activities of agency staff. The proposed scheme incorporates the design principle that no one individual can change details directly on the NIR. Verification service traffic is one way, and does not access the NIR directly.
It should be noted and understood that the content of the NIR is never stored in a manner that would leave it exposed to the risk of data extraction. A small number of communication links serve the database. These links are all encrypted using high-grade cryptography. There is no PC access to the NIR, and only a small number of operations staff with the highest level of government security clearance will be responsible for managing the uploading of information to the core database.
Additionally, Clause 31 creates the offence of tampering with the register. A person convicted on indictment can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison
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or a fine, or both, and on summary conviction to a prison sentence of up to 12 months. If we need reminding, employees would also be subject to normal employment law remedies. Disclosure would certainly amount to gross misconduct, and would be a dismissible offence by virtue of that.
So only a small number of authorised members of agency staff would have access to the register. It will not be connected to the Internet, and outside bodies will not have access. This is a highly secure system. It is designed that way by all other government databases. We do not believe that this amendment aids or assists that. It is already implicit by virtue of the seventh principle of the Data Protection Act. Our argument is that this unnecessary amendment adds nothing to the Bill, nor will it add any further protection.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord makes a general comment about leaks. We are talking about secure data systems. I made the important point that there is no history of encrypted systems such as the one 16 Nov 2005 : Column 1107 we are discussing being subject to hacking in the way in which some Members of the Committee, particularly noble Lords opposite, seem to believe will become a common occurrence. There is no history of that with any of the established databases which currently record national information. Measures, counter-measures, as it were, and more will be put in place to ensure that hacking does not occur with the new system.
Lord Bassam paints far too rosy a picture of UK Government IT security.
There have been numerous Government websites which have been defaced by naive "script kiddy" hackers. If any of these had been terrorists or serious criminals or foreign intelligence agents, then the front end internet websites could easily have been used for "man in the middle" attacks on the secure, back end database systems which publish information to the web servers.
There are many more such systems which have not been so compromised, but which have been vulnerable to such attacks via the internet for a period of time. These vulnerabilities have only been thwarted by good luck, and by the vigilance of patriotic UK IT security professionals.
Lord Lyell of Markyate: The final part of Clause 3(3) states:
"there is to be a conclusive presumption for the purposes of this Act that the information to which the direction relates is accurate and complete information about that matter".
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have further assistance which states that, for the purposes of the Act, the Secretary of State can withdraw the conclusive presumption if it proves to be
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wrong. But the purpose of the revision is to protect people with new identities - for example, those in the witness protection programme
The Government has still not spelled out how it intends to protect the identities of people in witness protection scheme, the home addresses of Judges, Policemen, Special Services military personnel, secret agaents, undercover Police or Customs investigators etc.
It is all very well faking records on the NIR, but if Biometrics work reaonably well, then their secret identities could be revealed and put their lives in danger, especially when other systems e.g. foreign border control systems, or many future private sector systems, retain a memory of their previous biometric ly linked identity details, which is outside the control of the UK Government, perhaps from a time even before these people were recruited into an undercover job etc.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Applicants for identity cards will be asked for information about their current principal address, together with current alternative addresses and previous addresses. They will not be asked about every address at which they have ever lived. However, once an identity card has been issued, historic data and information previously recorded will continue to be held on the register, but not as part of the current record of information provided with the consent of the identity card holder under Clause 14. The current address will be required not only to enable the new agency to contact individuals but also to clearly record on the register where someone lives if they need subsequently to provide evidence of address—for example, when seeking access to a service that applies only to people living in a particular catchment area.
We will use the order-making power in Clause 43(10) to specify in detail exactly what will be regarded as a place where a person resides or as his principal place of residence. We will also use the order-making power under Clause 12 to set out clearly which particular changes of address need to be notified and the period within which this must be done. I can reassure the Committee that there will not be a requirement to update addresses every time someone changes their address for a short period of time or when, for example, they go on holiday. Our current thinking is that a person would be required to notify the agency of a change of address for any place where he or she has lived continuously for a period of three months or more.
However, we will consider making exemptions in the case of students or others who have continuing permanent addresses. I understand the point about students made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. For students with a term-time address, or for people with second homes, it would be possible, although not a requirement—I emphasise it is not a requirement—for them to update their entry as frequently as they move from one place to another if they found it of personal benefit.
After moving into a new residence, there will be a reasonable time limit for notifying the agency of the new address. There will be no requirement for changes to be notified immediately.
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We intend that updates of addresses will be both easy and secure. There will be a variety of methods to update an address on the national identity register, including over the Internet, by telephone or in writing But in each case, in order to protect individuals from bogus attempts to change their address details, there would need to be a validation of identity. The identity card scheme is currently investigating the most secure method of conducting such remote transactions, including the use of methods involving one-time passwords, which would provide much greater assurance than traditional passwords.
So there will be indirect connection of the National Identity Register to the Internet, so all the usual computer virus, phishing, trojan remote control, man-in-the-middle , compromised front end web or email servers etc. risks will apply, no matter how secure the central NIR database system appears to be.
Previous addresses will be required from an identity card applicant for two reasons. First, if there has been a recent change of address, it will help the individual to ensure that the register has both addresses available. It might create problems if the register held only the latest address and a service checking identity had the person living at their last address.
Secondly, previous addresses are needed to enable background checks to be carried out, to ensure a gold standard of identity is entered onto the register. For example, this check could be against DVLA records to confirm that the person really has lived at the addresses they claim. As I stated in Committee, it is sometimes much harder for a fraudster to create historic records than it is to create current ones.
We will prescribe the period for which we will ask for information on previous addresses as provided at paragraph 1(h) of Schedule 1. Our current thinking is that we will ask all applicants for details of their addresses for the past six years, and only in the most exceptional cases would any earlier details be required. Clearly we would not require an applicant to provide us with details of every place where they have spent a single night in the last six years. Currently we think that a place of residence would be any place where you have lived continuously for three months or more. However, we think it would be wrong for this sort of detail to be set out on the face of the Bill.
We have amended the Bill from the version that was previously introduced, so that previous addresses are no longer held in the information recorded in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1. I should make clear that the historic information will also be held, but will not be available on the current record. Thus, if someone has held an identity card for, say, the last 30 years, information about their early addresses will have been moved into the record history part of the register.
The power to hold record history is provided by paragraph 5 of Schedule 1. It is important to note that the powers for verification with consent provided by Clause 14 do not cover paragraph 5, so it would not be possible for a commercial organisation to seek provision of an individual's complete address history on the national identity register, even with that person's consent. The individual could himself seek provision of that information under a Data Protection Act data subject access request. That is the way it would have to be done. In addition, it would be possible for historic information to be provided to the police, for example, under Clause 19 in connection with the prevention or detection of crime.
So who authorises access to the historical archived data ? Is this all to be permanently online, or will it be archived off to secondary storage and backup ? There has already been mention of a separate database of the full scans of the biometric images, as opposed to templates or cryptographic hashes of these images which might be stored on the ID Card itself.
Will these archives and secondary stores be used to hide illegal or secret accesses to a person's NIR data . by sidestepping the normal audit trail functions, or will everything be logged, with all that implies for the overall systems sizing and performance and cost ?
In a small minority of cases there may be a need to collect further information from an applicant about earlier addresses in order to validate his identity, for example, in the case of a British citizen who has just returned to the United Kingdom having lived six years abroad. Collecting information on past addresses in the United Kingdom from such an applicant could be an important extra piece of information to enable their identity to be validated. However, for the vast majority of identity card applicants we expect to ask for no more than details of addresses over the past six years
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked about elderly people who might be unable to give all the necessary details. I have dealt in part with the length of time issue. Elderly people may be exempted from the requirement to register or the requirement to obtain an ID card. Not all the information will be required from every applicant. We shall have to consider those issues very sensitively. Your Lordships will know that many other forms contain an age distinction regarding people over 85 or whatever. We shall have to consider the regulations very carefully in that regard. Not all the information will be required from every single person.
On what ethical basis should one favoured part of the UK population have to suffer less inconvenience and risk of being treated with suspicion, than any other section or group ?
Everybody, no matter their age, gender, ethnic background or religion, should be treated equally.