MPs critical of muddled ID card scheme

The government's ID card policy is in a muddle and the public, whilst supportive in principle, has "little enthusiasm" for paying the kind of fees being suggested, according to a powerful committee of MPs.

The Home Affairs select committee, a cross-party group of MPs, said the government’s proposals for an identity cards scheme, and the draft Identity Cards Bill, "lacked clarity" and were "badly thought out". Their assessment, published today, detailed wholesale concerns on the practical implications of the scheme, costs, procurement and transparency.

"This is not justified and must be addressed if the scheme is to enjoy public confidence and to work and achieve its aims in practice," the committee said.

Under current plans, biometric ID cards will first appear in 2007, with compulsory take up to be rolled out by 2013.

ID cards could make a significant contribution to tackling identity fraud and illegal working, but only when accompanied by wider enforcement measures; and they could make a "real and important contribution" to fighting organised crime and terrorism, the MPs concluded .

The committee said that ID cards would represent a "significant change in the relationship" between state and individual. However, ID card schemes have been found to be popular and operate without significant problems in the rest of Europe, the committee said.

However, the UK's unique variety of "social, political and legal culture and history", and the large amount of biometric data required, meant that it was difficult to draw comparisons.

Nonetheless, the scheme should not be rejected on constitutional grounds alone – the balance between costs and benefits should be decisive.

This in itself was hard to measure as the Home Office has been taking decisions about the nature of the card without external assessment or public debate, the report concluded.

There were also "deep concerns" about the lack of information from the government about the number, type and cost of automatic card readers and infrastructure. The committee called for estimates to be published of the number of readers required by government departments and other organisations.

The introduction of ID cards would add another complicated layer of bureaucracy as there could be up to four different systems for checking entitlement to public services in different parts of the UK – which would also result in people carrying a wide range of cards.

Despite its reservations, the committee added: "We believe it is possible to deliver the project on time, to specification and to cost. But the closed nature of the procurement process should be replaced by a more open procurement policy, allowing expert scrutiny."

The Tories have describing the government's approach as "incoherent" and weak on detail.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis warned that if the Home Secretary did not review his plans, the end product would be "fatally flawed".

Mr Davis stated: "There are a whole series of problems, loopholes and weaknesses and the committee is absolutely right to highlight them. And this proposal may well lead to a very large database containing all the data about all citizens in one place, and that has serious civil liberties considerations too."

The Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary, Mark Oaten, said that the David Blunkett's proposals were a "mish-mash of ideas" created to placate the Cabinet.

“Mr Blunkett has failed to demonstrate to the Committee, the public, and to many of his Cabinet colleagues that his plans would prevent terrorism or cut crime," he said.


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