Call for national debate over digital ID card plans

MPs have called for a national debate over plans in Westminster to develop a “single unique identifier” for individuals accessing government services online – an idea which has reignited concerns about digital ID cards.

Single unique identifiers (SUIs) would effectively be digital ID cards which could be used to link individuals’ data across the many different databases held across Whitehall departments.

Effectively linking these databases into a single giant database remains an controversial idea due to concerns about government misuse of data and its ability to protect data from hackers.

Supporters suggest however that it would allow individuals to access the government services they need without bureaucratic delays, and will allow them to know exactly what the government is doing with their data.

In the new report on digital government published on Wednesday, MPs from the science and technology committee of parliament said the government “should facilitate a national debate” on SUIs.

The call for a debate has been welcomed, even by those who suggest the SUI is a bad idea.

Data privacy organisation medConfidential welcomed the report for setting out a direction, noting “this is something lacking from government in recent times” before adding that “some of the details are disturbing”.

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“While the Home Office may treat UK residents like cattle, numbered and tracked, that’s not what is usually expected by parliament,” it stated.

Phil Booth, the director of medConfidential, also drew comparison between the SUIs and previous attempts to introduce mandatory identity cards in the UK.

A number of expert academics and IT professionals which Sky News spoke to agreed with this assessment.

When the coalition government was elected, its first act was to repeal one of the previous Labour government’s more controversial bits of legislation: the Identity Cards Act 2006.

At the time of repealing the act, Theresa May told parliament: “The national identity card scheme represents the worst of government. It is intrusive and bullying, ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty which does not promise a greater good.”

LONDON, United Kingdom: A man wearing a mask depicting Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair demonstrates against the governments proposed introduction of biometric identity cards outside the Houses of Parliament in London, 13 February 2006. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown defended the introduction of identity cards Monday, insisting that they would help disrupt terrorists and criminals travelling on stolen identities as well as helping tackle identity fraud, which costs Britain 1.7 billi
Image: The coalition government scrapped the Identity Cards Act 2006

The Identity Cards Act had been controversial and provoked protest because of the perception it would have facilitated enormous government intrusion into the public’s life.

This intrusion wasn’t really a matter of issuing ID cards for individuals to carry around, but rather the database the government was creating to support these cards, a national identity register of everyone in the UK.

This database would have been an enormous imposition on individual privacy. It would have stored Britons’ names and national insurance numbers beside fingerprints, mugshots, residential addresses and more.

Critics of the SUIs argue that they would effectively create a similar database.

Wendy Grossman, who has sat on the advisory councils for data privacy organisations Open Rights Group and Privacy International, said: “So, basically, all the bad parts of the ID card without the card?”

The government is yet to respond to the report.

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