MPs CALL TO REJECT ID CARDS BILL

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MPs yesterday raised questions about the ID card Bill which was introduced in the House of Commons by Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

Clarke said he would deal with concerns ‘raised around the big brother society, cost, benefits to individuals and society, questions of services access and safegards.’

In the debate during the Bill’s second reading, Clarke claimed that ‘under the Data Protection Act (DPA) everyone has the right to check the record that is held upon them’.

Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews disputed this. He warned: ‘You can of course obtain data under the DPA if it refers to security matters or to criminal matters.

‘Under this Bill, however, the Home Secretary has the power to include in the Bill, by secondary legislation, matter relating to security and criminal matters.

‘By definition, they would not be accessible under the Data Protection Act and they are the most important of all.’

Labour MP Mark Fisher questioned what happens ‘if somebody examines the data that is held on them and finds that it is inaccurate?’

Clarke said he would look into that.

Labour MP David Winnick said despite Clarke’s assurances: ‘Why is it that the Information Commissioner, in his latest comments, says that the ID card will be an unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion into our liberties?

‘Shouldn’t we take Mr Thomas’s comments very seriously indeed, and is it not a fact that, if this measure was on a free vote tonight it would certainly be thrown out?’

Labour MP Diane Abbott said: ‘On the question of the effect of ID cards on black and ethnic minority communities, it doesn’t give an extension of powers to the police, however, it does give an extension of pretext by which the police may stop you.

‘We should take seriously the effect of a measure which will further turn the screw on community relations in our big towns.’

Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten took Clarke up on his reply that ethnic minorities will have nothing to fear. Oaten asked: ‘Why then, in the government’s own registry impact assessment, did it say this “there will be cultural problems about getting service providers to ask only certain groups for proof of identity for fear of being accused of discrimination”?’

He added: ‘Is that not true that there is a danger for ethnic minorities?’

Labour MP Glenda Jackson questioned Clarke’s denials on cost and intrusiveness: ‘He’s referred to banks, to libraries, he’s referred to the ability of an ID card to prevent acts of international terror, but he has failed to tell the House how.

‘Has every library got to have a machine that can ensure that the ID card presented is accurate?

‘How are these cards to be verified in every single aspect of national life from banks to libraries, to police stations, to A&E, to hospitals, to doctors’ surgeries.

‘And who is going to pay for those machines that can read these cards?’

Clarke said it would be up to local councils to decide whether libraries would have machines.

On the eve of yesterday’s debate, UK Passport Service chief Bernard Herdan revealed that more than 4.5 million people a year will have to go to special interview centres, where they will be asked to verify their identity by answering questions about their previous addresses and their schools, in order to get a new biometric passport from the end of 2008.

He added that 600,000 people will be interviewed by the end of next year. From the end of 2006 first-time adult passport applicants will be called to interview at one of 70 centres nationwide.

From July next year, all new passports will include a computer chip which would initially contain only facial scans, further details such as fingerprints or iris scans, will become a requirement at a later date.

The passports will use the same database as being used for the proposed national identity register that is part of the ID card system.

Herdan said that biometric passports would transform ‘pretty seamlessly’ into the ID card scheme.