Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Yet More Reasons to say NO to ID cards

(Part of an occasional series)

The draft ID Cards Bill is now out, (you can get a copy here) and it is just as bad as we thought. After all, you might think a huge government database linking all its information about all of us was bad enough. But what would you say to this?
The Secretary of State—
(a)may at any time modify the Register for the purpose of correcting information recorded in it that he is satisfied is inaccurate or incomplete; but

(b)is not, by virtue of any provision of this Act, to be under a duty to correct such information unless, in a case where he is so satisfied, he considers that it is appropriate to do so."
In clearer English, this means that even if the Home Secretary is satisfied that your file is incorrect, he is not obliged by law to correct it. Whether this would stand up in court or not, of course, is another matter, but it hardly fills you with confidence as to the fairness and accuracy of the information held on the database. I'd rather got my hopes up when I noticed that the draft provides for the register to hold any other information that you, the citizen, asks to be added to your record - I was thinking along the lines of "I LOVE KIMBERLEY FORTIER", for example - but section 3(2) rules this out by making such information subject to (3(2)b) rules set by the Home Office and (3(2)c) the Secretary of State's approval. More seriously, 1(5)h includes on the proposed database
"information about occasions on which information recorded about him in the Register has been provided to any person;".
If the Home Office's hopes for the widespread use of ID card readers were to come true, this would provide a means of following the movements of individuals - as every time the card was checked, this would be logged in the Big Computer. This would be pointless unless such a log included details of which terminal had checked the ID card and when. The "information of a technical nature for use in the administration of the Register" and of ID cards that will also (section 3 subsections 1b and c) be stored against your name would also seem to offer considerable possibilities (not least because it is entirely unspecified in the legislation). In Schedule 1, Section 9, this is made entirely explicit:
"The following may be recorded in the entry in the Register for an individual—
(a)particulars of every occasion on which information contained in the individual’s entry has been provided to a person;

(b)particulars of every person to whom such information has been provided on such an occasion;

(c)other particulars, in relation to each such occasion, of the provision of the information"

Section 15 permits the authorities to make the provision of public services conditional on identity checks. In a bizarre twist to this, subsection 2 then excludes any service that involves a payment being made to the persion involved or any service that is provided free of charge. I am struggling to think of a personal public service that is neither free of charge nor involves the issue of a benefit in cash. And how, given this explicit exclusion of education, health and social security, will any of the savings Blunkett claims the ID card will bring actually happen? All is revealed, however, when you read down to the bottom of section 15. Here we find a little beauty of a clause that excludes the exclusion in as far as it affects "individuals of a description required to register in section 6". Section 6 includes the procedure for the eventual introduction of compulsory registration. So, everyone will indeed have to show their cards to get medical treatment. Just not yet. In section 18 ("Prohibition on Requirements to produce identity cards"), there is not one but two similar get-out clauses. One excludes any regulation under section 15, and another excludes those section 6 individuals. Ha.

Plunging swiftly into the grubby universe of financial interest, we come to the section on "Fees and charges". As well as the bits we already knew (the £85 ID and passport charge), this includes a truly impressive scale of possible bills:
"a)applications to him for entries to be made in the Register, for the modification of entries or for the issue of ID cards;

(b)the making or modification of entries in the Register;

(c)the issue of ID cards;

(d)applications for the provision of information contained in entries in the Register;

(e)the provision of such information;

(f)applications for confirmation that information supplied coincides with information recorded in the Register;

(g)the issue or refusal of such confirmations;

h)applications for the approval of a person or of apparatus in accordance with any regulations under this Act

(i)the grant of such approvals.
So that's a fat nine opportunities to milk everyone in any way involved with the scheme, with apparently no limit on the bill in the Bill. I will offer you three questions: Firstly, can anyone tell us how much it will cost, both to individuals and to the state? Secondly, can anyone tell us what the explanation of the arguably dishonest drafting of section 15 is? (Shorter - if it will be required for access to social security, education and the NHS, why not say so in plain honest terms?) And thirdly, who can say they really have nothing to hide?

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