It is hard to decide which is more annoying and disheartening when following debates in Parliament on controversial repressive legislation: the House of Commons or the House of Lords ?
The answer to this rhetorical question is - whichever one of them happens to be "debating" the legislation at any given time.
Monday's Committee stage of the controversial Identity Cards Bill 2005 in the House of Lords showed that some of the Opposition Peers did ask important questions concerning, for example, the whole question of "Names" and whether the name on a Passport would effectively become your "official name" or not. They also debated the hugely important difference between "may" and "must" in the wording of the Bill as potentially applied to the information to be recorded on the proposed National Identity Register Audit Trail.
However despite bringing two amendments to a vote, both of them were lost, and all the other amendments were withdrawn
One vote was on an amendment which tried to give some leeway to an individual , so that they would not be forced to attend an enrolment centre at a particular location and time, simply to suit the convenience and budgets of the bureaucrats or the profits of any outsourced private sector partners. The other amendment which was voted on
was about the role of of the National Identity Commissioner in the dubious "voluntary" stage of the plan.
The is feeble opposition to the Government's plans in the Lords. Our feeling of betrayal by the politicians is growing.
The Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal managed not to email her 30 page letter to the Peers, on Friday, thereby ensuring, , that an important Government document which would have had a direct bearing on the debate was unread by most of the Lords, and only partially read by some of them during the actual debate itself.
The Governemnt Minister Lord Bassam of Brighton added to our worries about the security of the proposed scheme, by yet again pretending that there would be some magically secure way to update name and address details without using all the expensive, complicated and intrusive biometric technology which the Government has claimed is so essential to prevent fraud and impersonation and "identity theft".
If such a secure method exists, remembering that the proposed scheme does not include Digital Certificates for online use (which other countries such as Sweden or Belgium are including in their smart ID card systems), then why waste billions of pounds on biometrics ? If not, then there will be no more security than with existing systems, so, again. why bother ?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Names are fully explained in the appendix to the letter that I sent from my private office to all noble Lords last Friday, 9 December. In that letter I have tried to go through many of the points which were of concern to noble Lords, but I am sure not everyone will have had an opportunity to read it in detail. Somewhat unusually, it contains about 30 pages, so I know that it is comprehensive. It is available in e-mail. I can certainly e-mail it again or provide hard copy if anyone does not have it, but, as this Committee will go on for a little time and we will have the 12 Dec 2005 : Column 974 opportunity to enjoy ourselves even further on Wednesday, I am sure that some of the issues I raise in the letter will come up then.
We would like to read this 30 page letter
Why was it not published online well before this Committee stage debate ?
Most of the Lords had not read this document beforehand, although a few did manage to "speed read" paper copies during the debate.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I need to clarify something I said earlier. I had asked for the letter to be e-mailed and sent. I understand that it was sent but, through an oversight, it was not e-mailed. I am very sorry about that because my instructions were very clear. I know that noble Lords find that an easy way to receive information, particularly the noble Baroness. That is why I was disappointed that all noble Lords had not received it. I apologise because I would not like to mislead the Committee. I asked for it to be done that way, but I have discovered that it was not. I add my additional apology as a result.
Is this Yet Another Home Office Cock-up or Conspiracy ?
It is not the first time that this NuLabour Government has failed to provide a document which is important for the debate in Parliament, which has magically only turned up at the very last minute, actually during the debate.
Either the Home Office Civil Servants and Ministers are incompetent, or this is a deliberate tactic to prevent the opposition from being able to properly analyse and seek outside advice on the Government's plans.
The more that Government Ministers describe their understanding of how the system would work in practice, the more worrying it becomes from a security risk point of view.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Since the noble Lord refers to me specifically, can we agree on something? Can we agree that every change of address or name—for a start—would have to be reported and that every time that happened the person would be liable to be called for an interview and to give further details? Can we agree on that much because then we will have a picture?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I do not think that we can agree on that. Clearly, an individual would not be called for an interview if they were advancing the information voluntarily. I am sure that they would want to do that. In practical terms, the way in which the scheme would operate will mean that people will be able to inform their local enrolment officers about changes not necessarily by having to appear in person, so I cannot absolutely agree with what the noble Lord said. There are some differences of interpretation here.
Lord Bassam of Brighton continued to blithely fail to understand the balance between the "security" of the proposed system and its "convenience":
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their record without good reason. It is currently envisaged that individuals will be asked to update their details within three months of any changes. Of course, allowances would be made for those with quite legitimate reasons --- llness being one --- and difficulties of accessing an enrolment centre. As we mentioned previously, it is intended that the most common changes such as change of address or change of name after marriage can be made quickly, easily and without a need to make an appointment at a centre. We do not consider that an unreasonable approach.
So there would be no requirement for "strong biometric" authentication i.e. a face to face interview and / or ID card presentation to a securely guarded biometric scanner with a trained human attendant ?
This "3 months" period in which to register a change of name and / or address and no need to attend an enrolment centre, leaves the scheme open to "Identity Theft" by changing someone else's "offical" Address to one which a criminal has access to, through the traditional email / online form / postal or fax or telephone phishing, frauds, impersonations and forgeries !
A criminal would have a 3 month head start, before the central bureaucracy would even think about starting to look for possible fraud or misuse in a particular case.