‘WE DON’T WANT OUR DETAILS ON ANY DATABASE’ – public tell campaigners

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NO2ID protest outside Parliament in February 2006 against the Bill introducing an ID card scheme
NO2ID protest outside Parliament in February 2006 against the Bill introducing an ID card scheme

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s claim that people ‘just can’t wait’ to get ID cards has been rubbished by campaign group NO2ID.

NO2ID national coordinator Phil Booth said on Friday her remarks, made on Thursday, ‘beggared belief’ and would ‘come back to haunt her’.

Announcing the first roll-out of ID cards, Smith announced to an audience at the Social Market Foundation, revised ID scheme plans in which the first biometric cards are to be issued to students from outside the EU, and marriage visa holders, this month.

She said: ‘I believe there is a demand, now, for cards.

‘And as I go round the country I regularly have people coming up to me and saying they don’t want to wait that long.

‘I now want to put that to the test and find a way to allow those people who want a card sooner to be able to pre-register their interest as early as the first few months of next year.’

NO2ID’s Booth retorted: ‘She must be ignoring twice the number of people who are coming up to her and saying I don’t want my details on any database whatsoever.’

The fresh criticism came amid concerns about the cost of providing biometric data and fingerprints needed to apply.

Retailers and the Post Office are likely to be among those competing to provide this service.

Civil rights group Liberty on Thursday responded angrily to Home Secretary’s Smith’s announcement that the ID cards roll-out will be accelerated, with private contractors taking sensitive biometric details.

In her speech to the Social Market Foundation she said cards would be issued on a voluntary basis to young people from 2010 and for everyone else from 2012.

People applying for cards and passports from 2012 will have to provide fingerprints, photographs and a signature, which Smith believes will create a ‘market’ worth about £200m a year.

Originally, the government had planned to make ID cards compulsory for all 200,000 airside workers from 2009.

But trade unions had argued airside workers were already extensively vetted and believe they would have to pay £30 for a card.

Forced to backtrack, Smith announced instead an 18-month trial from late next year, for airside workers at Manchester and London City airports only.

But what has really made civil liberty groups fume are Home Office plans to talk to retailers and the Post Office about setting up booths to gather biometric data.

In her speech Smith rejected claimed that handing enrolment over to private firms would compromise security.

Liberty expressed concern about the government’s ability to safeguard individual’s intimate details on the National Identity Register after government departments last year lost 30 million pieces of personal data, including those of 25 million child benefit claimants.

The overall cost of the ID card scheme over the next 10 years has already risen by £50 million to £5.1 billion in the past six months, according to the government’s latest cost report.

Liberty Policy Officer Isabella Sankey said: ‘As millions of British families worry about food and mortgages, £5 billion for ID cards moves from the ridiculous to the obscene.

‘We have seen the stirring images of Americans choosing to queue for hours to register their vote.

‘Our Home Secretary prefers the chilling picture of Britons compelled to register their fingerprints.’

The £5.6 billion compulsory ID card scheme has been unsuccessfully touted by the government as a solution to identity theft, benefit fraud, crime, and terrorism – but is now being rolled out to targeted groups such as foreign nationals, students and airport workers.

Campaign group NO2ID said on Wednesday: ‘Under cover of the entirely predictable media preoccupation with the results of the US elections, the Home Secretary is once more to address a friendly think tank audience in an attempt to bury bad news.

‘Except this time she’ll be announcing bad news, weird news and a tactical retreat.’

The bad news according to NO2ID is that despite all attempts to shift the costs off-balance-sheet, this autumn’s report to parliament on the ID scheme costs will show an increase in the projected spending over the next 10 years.

The Home Office projections only show estimates for its own set-up and running costs for the scheme. They do not include using ID cards for anything.

The ‘weird’ news is private companies will be ‘encouraged’ to bid for collecting fingerprints from the general public, which begs the question: Why has the Home Office spent millions already for its own chain of Identity and Passport Service enrolment centres?

NO2ID also asks: how can such a procedure be made secure? And, who would be crazy enough to bid, given the guaranteed unpopularity of fingerprinting the public?

The tactical retreat is the news that ‘ID cards for airside workers from 2009’ actually amounts to trial schemes at two airports from this time next year.

Jacqui Smith claimed as recently as February that 200,000 people would be captured for the scheme in this way, and that it was justified by the needs of security.

With regard to the ‘pilot’ of ID cards for airside workers, Phil Booth, NO2ID National Coordinator, said that trade unions and the airline industry have both registered their opposition, declaring it is unjustified and would not improve security.

‘Dropping to trials at a couple of airports is a transparent attempt to save ministerial face,’ said Booth.

‘Dropping the entire scheme, by comparison, would save only privacy, liberty, public money and long-term national embarrassment.

‘The Home Office knows the more people are reminded of the ID scheme the more they despise it. Hence one more set-piece speech to a hand-picked audience on a busy news day.

‘An open presentation to parliament or a press conference might ask questions or stimulate discussion. The Home Office wants compliance, not discussion.’

On the costs Booth said: ‘The ink is barely dry on the first minor contracts for the ID scheme and already costs are spiralling.

‘Yet of course these figures are just a fraction of the real cost. There are billions to be buried in other departments’ budgets.

‘The cost to citizens and to business of cooperating with the surveillance state will be billions more.’

Regarding private companies hired for fingerprinting he said: ‘The government is selling a pig in a poke.

‘What company is going to embarrass itself to the tune of millions for a contract that everyone outside the Home Office itself knows will be cancelled by a new administration?’