Select Committee on Home Affairs Fourth Report


The Committee's inquiry

1. The Committee decided to inquire into all aspects of identity cards, including the practical aspects of the Government's proposals and of any future schemes, as well as undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny of the Home Office's draft Bill. Key points we agreed to consider were:

2. During the course of our inquiry we took oral evidence on nine occasions and received 115 memoranda, of which 33 focussed on the draft Bill. A list of those who gave oral evidence is annexed. We visited the UK Passport Service's Headquarters to see its biometric pilot project. We also visited Sweden and Germany.

3. The Committee would like to thank the two Specialist Advisers appointed to assist the inquiry, Professor Angela Sasse of University College London and Professor Brian Collins of the Royal Military College of Science Shrivenham.

Identity Cards in the United Kingdom

4. The carrying of identity cards was compulsory in the United Kingdom from 1939 to 1952. They were introduced as a security measure and continued after the war to help in the administration of food rationing. The police had powers to see identity cards in certain circumstances. If an individual did not show one when asked, it had to be produced at a police station within two days. In December 1950 Clarence Henry Willcock, the manager of a dry cleaning firm, refused to show his identity card when asked to by PC Muckle following a minor motoring offence; two days later, having failed to produce it at a police station, he was charged under the National Registration Act 1939. In the magistrates court he argued that it was wrong for the authorities to continue to use a power given during a national emergency when that emergency no longer existed. He was convicted under the terms of the Act, but given an absolute discharge. He appealed against the conviction and in June 1951 the case reached the High Court, where Lord Goddard, acting Lord Chief Justice, concluded that he had no choice but to uphold the conviction, praised the magistrates for giving an absolute discharge and said:

The National Registration Act was repealed following the change of government in October 1951.

5. Various proposals for the reintroduction of identity cards were made in succeeding years. In May 1995 the then Government published a Green Paper on identity cards, setting out a range of possibilities. The principal options were:

    a)  no new card of any kind

    b)  use of the photographic Driving Licence (then only a proposal) as a de facto voluntary identity card

    c)  including information on the photographic Driving Licence to enable to serve as a voluntary identity card

    d)  a new voluntary identity card, which would also serve as a valid travel card within the European Economic Area (EEA) [2]

    e)  a new high-tech card, which would serve a number of different functions, including that of a voluntary identity card, and

    f)  a compulsory card.[3]

The 1996 Home Affairs Committee Report on Identity Cards

6. Following the Government's consultation process, which ended in September 1995, the then Home Affairs Committee undertook an inquiry on the issue. In its report, published in June 1996, the Committee concluded, inter alia, that "in principle an identity card could be of benefit to many individual citizens by providing them with an additional or easier means of establishing their identity".[4] The Committee also considered that an identity card could make a contribution in the following areas: fraud relating to social security and benefit payments, helping the financial and commercial world to reduce fraud, bogus official callers, lower level non-fraud crime, under-age sales, the electoral process and facilitating travel within the European Economic Area. The Committee took the view that only a compulsory card or one that carried details of immigration status would have an impact on preventing illegal immigration and that while it might be possible usefully to include basic medical information, this would raise important issues of privacy.

7. The Committee also examined technical questions arising from the introduction of an identity card system and considered that:

    "a sufficient level of protection against forgery is available to make a useful ID card a feasible objective, though this will not prevent the production and use of forgeries where cards are only lightly checked. Higher levels of security will involve the ready availability and widespread use of devices capable of performing the necessary tests on the card; moves towards such extra security may become necessary in time." [5]

8. The Committee highlighted the importance of the security of the issuing process and noted that if "very high levels of security against the issue of multiple identity cards" were necessary, then a national identity database containing a biometric of each cardholder would be required.[6] The Committee also noted that higher security entailed greater technical sophistication and accordingly greater cost and that citizens might find biometric testing, notably fingerprinting, unacceptable. The Committee's overall conclusion on the technical aspects was that:

    "although the required level of security will rise over time, processes and technology already appear to be available to enable a reasonably secure identity card to be introduced at reasonable cost." [7]

9. The Committee did not recommend the introduction of a compulsorily held card, noting that none of the bodies who might have been expected to be in favour, such as the police and the financial and commercial sectors, had called for one. The Committee further concluded that "it should not become the practice for access to individual public services to be made dependent on the presentation of a card".[8] It also noted that it was common ground in the evidence received that "there should be no charge to the citizen if a card were to be compulsory".[9] The Committee also recommended against a unique identity number for each card holder, on the grounds that the gain that might be derived from it would probably be outweighed by the increased data protection risks.

10. On cost issues the Committee concluded that the private sector should only be expected to cover the costs of the parts of the identity card system of direct benefit to them, such as identity card readers, and that if a new, separate identity card were introduced, "the Government should be prepared to envisage its issue either free of charge or on a subsidised basis".[10] The overall conclusion on costs was that "a detailed analysis of the likely net public expenditure effect of the particular scheme proposed to be introduced must be published as part of the pre-legislative consultative process".[11]

11. The Committee's general conclusion was:

    "For us, the balance of advantage to the individual citizen and to the public as a whole is in favour of the introduction of some form of voluntary identity card, subject to the proviso that the particular card is sufficiently reliable, is sufficiently widely held, is accompanied by protections for civil liberties, and does not entail disproportionate cost."[12]

The Committee's preferred option for the card itself was the photocard driving licence, with additional voluntary information, such as address and nationality, issued on the basis of a much stricter process than that for the issue of driving licences and supported by a database developed from scratch, to avoid importing errors from existing databases.

12. In its response to the Committee's report,[13] the Government stated that it intended to introduce such a voluntary card scheme and announced, in the Queen's Speech opening the 1996-97 Session of Parliament, that it would publish a draft Bill on the introduction of voluntary identity cards. However the Session was curtailed by the calling of the May 1997 General Election and no draft Bill was published.

The international context

13. We now turn to the international context. It is clear that the current Government's proposals are shaped by international developments affecting the content and format of passports and driving licences. We also examine other countries' experiences of identity cards or attempts to introduce them.


Driving licences

14. Within the EU the Commission and Member States have shared competence on driving licences. These are governed by Council Directive 91/439/EEC of 29 July 1991, subsequently amended, notably by Directive 96/47/EC of 23 July 1996. (A new Directive is currently under discussion.) These Directives set out the formats to which both the paper driving licence and the photo card must conform. UK driving licences comply with these directives which rules out the possibility, for example, of a combined passport, driving licence and identity card.

15. Stephen Harrison, Head of the Home Office's Identity Card Policy Unit, told us:


16. The format of passports falls to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which agreed recommendations in May 2003 on the use of biometrics in machine-readable travel documents (sc. passports and visas), which subsequently became known as the ICAO "Blueprint". The first recommendation was that facial recognition to be used worldwide for machine-assisted identity confirmation, with the option of fingerprint and/or iris recognition in support; it was further recommended that a contactless integrated circuit chip, with a minimum capacity of 32K bytes of data, should be used as the medium for storage of electronic data, including biometrics, on a travel document.[15]


17. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act was signed by President Bush in May 2002. Among provisions designed to strengthen US borders, through, for example, authorising increased staff numbers, was a change in the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program, under which citizens of 27 participating countries, the United Kingdom among them, are allowed to travel to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The Act requires that from 26 October 2004 Visa Waiver Program countries must have a programme in place to issue their nationals machine-readable passports. These must be tamper-resistant and incorporate biometric and document authentication identifiers that comply with ICAO standards. The Act also requires visitors coming to the United States under the Program to present these new biometric and machine-readable passports if they were issued on or after that date. Travellers who were nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries, but who did not have biometric passports issued after that date, would need a visa to enter the United States.

18. However the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have requested Congress to extend the deadline until 30 November 2006. In presenting this request, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge argued that while most Visa Waiver Program countries would be able to certify that they have a programme in place to issue biometric passports by 26 October 2004, few, if any, would actually be able to produce biometric passports by that date. This would lead to significant burdens on US Consulates, who would have to process millions of extra visas. The Department of Homeland Security was unable to acquire and deploy the equipment and software needed to compare and authenticate biometric passports by the original deadline, and, if it did, the equipment would be unlikely to be interoperable for all relevant passports.

19. We highlight a number of issues arising from these developments. International developments, including ICAO recommendations, EU directives and amendments to US visa regulations, will require the introduction of biometrics, whether or not the Government intended to introduce identity cards. However, the Government's decision to make the UK passport one form of an identity card has a number of consequences. In particular, it means adopting the ICAO format for the card and for data storage. This in turn has major implications for the wider design, cost and operation of the identity card system. As we shall note later in the report, there is a lively technical debate about the best format for cards and for data storage and retrieval. Those countries that have kept identity cards separate from passports and travel documents have been able to choose alternative formats. We discuss possible types of card in paragraphs 194-198.

20. While we can understand why the Government has proposed a combined passport and identity card, we regret that no analysis has been published of the costs and benefits of a free-standing identity card.

21. The delay in the introduction of the US system for biometric passport controls illustrates a further element of identity systems to which we shall return. The issuing of an identity document is only one part of an identity system; the capacity to check those documents in an efficient and reliable manner is equally important.


22. Most members of the European Union have voluntary or compulsory identity cards. Apart from the United Kingdom the only members without any form of identity card scheme are Ireland, Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania. Most EU countries have a national register, or issue citizens at birth a personal number for use in a wide range of circumstances, such as paying tax, opening a bank account or claiming benefits. Many cards have a biometric, in the sense that they incorporate a fingerprint, and some are compulsory to carry and produce on request. No country yet has a biometric system of the sort proposed for the United Kingdom, but a number are introducing smart-cards and considering options for more sophisticated biometrics.


23. In May 2004 we visited Sweden and Germany, in connection with our inquiries into identity cards and rehabilitation of prisoners. We held discussions with representatives of government, NGOs and others to discuss each country's present or planned system of identity cards.


24. For several centuries there has been a national population register: everyone in Sweden is issued with a personal number at birth, and this has to be cited in many official transactions. There is completely open access to the population register: anyone can look up a person's name, address and personal number. The population register is the basis for identity documents carried by 90% of Swedish citizens and residents. It is difficult to be served in shops or banks without one: driving licences, passports, or cards issued by banks or companies are used for this purpose.

25. There is, however, no national identity card as yet. A new Swedish national identity card will include biometric data, though the exact nature of this has not yet been decided on. The purpose of the new card is as a travel document within the Schengen area, rather than as a measure to tackle crime or identity fraud.

26. It will be designed to allow more information to be added to it in future, e.g. electronic signatures. There will be a charge for the card: this has not yet been fixed, but is expected to be greater than the current charge for a passport of 225 Kr (about £19). It will not be compulsory to carry the card. The card will show date of issue and nationality, and be valid for five years. Cards will be revocable, if the holder has been found to assume a false identity or has allowed another person to use their card.

27. We were told that the principle of the population register and the personal number is universally accepted in Sweden, because people have been familiar with it throughout their lives. However, there has been opposition on grounds of individual rights to a linkage between the new card and the population register. Accordingly, the card will not be linked to the register. Information will be stored in the chip on the card but not in a central database. Anyone checking the card will be able to check that the person presenting the card is the person whose details are stored in the chip, but will not be able to use the card to access personal information other than that contained in the card itself.


28. In Germany there is a national identity card system. This has been in force for several generations. Compulsory registration of individuals was introduced under the Reich Registration Law of 1938, and identity cards were introduced in 1950. It is not mandatory to carry the identity card or 'PA' (Personalausweis). However, most people do because "you never know when you'll need it". The police have powers to stop people in the street and ask them to show their identity card. If they are unable to produce this, the police have the right to 'accompany' them to their residence or to arrest them for the purpose of establishing identity—but they have to demonstrate "good reason" why they are exercising this power.

29. Because of concerns about individual rights, and the memory of abuses during the Nazi period, there is no central database of identity card information, and the scheme is organised at regional (Länder) level, rather than the federal level.

30. The identity card contains the address of the holder. Every individual living in Germany is required to notify the public authorities of a change of address within a week of moving. Secondary places of residence also have to be registered. Registration is necessary in order to claim social security benefits. An individual's address is not regarded as private information, and information about addresses will be supplied to inquirers; there is a fee for this service.

31. Every German over the age of 16 years is required to have an identity card. These are supplied on application to a specialist office (Einwohnermeldeamt) in the area where the applicant has their main residence. The only proof demanded is a copy of the birth certificate or a previous identity card. Applications are send to the official printers in Berlin, the Bundesdruckerei, where the cards are manufactured. We visited the Bundesdruckerei (which used to be state-run but was privatised in 2000) and can attest to the technical sophistication of the cards—comparable to that of German passports. According to our interlocutors, these very high security standards make the cards all but impossible to counterfeit. Data held for the purpose of producing the identity card are deleted after completion of the production process.

32. The current fee for German identity cards is €8 and for passports €26. Planning is in train for introducing EU passports including biometrics as and when a political decision to do so is taken at EU level. It has not yet been decided which form of biometrics to use. New generation identity cards including biometrics and digital signatures are likely to be introduced within the next few years. The German authorities are more concerned with the security of EU identity documents than with that of their own, which they take largely for granted.

33. We were told that the German identity card is a fully accepted and widely used document, carried by almost all Germans and used in all kinds of transactions.


34. Canada and Australia are frequently cited as countries with similar political and social cultures to the United Kingdom.

35. In October 2003 the Committee on Citizenship and Immigration of the Canadian House of Commons published an interim report A National Identity Card for Canada?[16] This reached no formal conclusions, although it did identify a number of questions that needed to be answered to reach a conclusion. The Committee took the view that:

    "It is clear that this is a very significant policy issue that could have wide implications for privacy, security and fiscal accountability. Indeed, it has been suggested that it could affect fundamental values underlying Canadian society."

36. On 31 December 2003 the Canadian Government introduced an identity card for foreign nationals who are legal permanent residents in Canada.[17] The Permanent Resident Card (PR Card), also known as the Maple Leaf Card, is the proof of status document required by permanent residents seeking to re-enter Canada on a commercial carrier. Only non-secure information is printed on the card: personal information is encoded and accessible only to authorized officials. Security features include laser-engraved photograph and signature, micro-text printing, tactile lettering and ultra-violet images. Richard Haddock, of LaserCard, pointed to the Canadian experience as a model:

    "we have some experience now in five different countries starting from scratch through the planning process to the point where they have all issued cards. The most impressive one was the Canadian Government, where, shortly after 9/11, they decided they wanted to upgrade their permanent resident card to an optical memory card, and within nine months of making that decision they were issuing cards to their citizens. They said by June 28th 2002 they must be issued, and we thought it was very aggressive but we agreed to it and on June 28th they issued cards. It was on time, on budget, so it can be done, [...]"[18]

He added:

    "What is currently on the Canadian card is a facial photograph of the person, (which is actually in black and white because they laser-engrave the card), and it has a digitised signature of the person (where again it is a scan of the signature), and they have allocated a space in the secure partition of the optical memory for a fingerprint, but currently they are not putting the fingerprint in it because they are still considering the privacy implications. So in that case they built the flexibility to upgrade in the future into their system."[19]

Mr Haddock also remarked on the way the Canadian card was introduced:

    "The Canadian Government put out a PR campaign about their new permanent resident card and actually the card is a very beautifully designed card. They did a good job in designing it and it makes you want to own one, so there is some pride of ownership associated with it in the newspapers. It is called the Maple Leaf Card and it was splashed all over the press there. They actually won three international awards within three months of it being issued for both technical and aesthetic qualities. They then put out technology fliers on the benefits of it and got a high rate of acceptance. Of course they also had the advantage of having a pre-existing paper document which they could force to expire and oblige people, if they wanted to continue to have the privileges associated with that document, to upgrade to the new card."[20]

37. Like the United Kingdom, Australia had an identity card system during the Second World War; this was withdrawn shortly after the end of hostilities. In July 1985 the Australian Government brought forward a proposal for the "Australia Card", largely on the grounds that it would reduce tax evasion. The scheme was to include a register, operated as a hub-system whereby participating agencies could share specified data about individuals. The entire population was to be recorded on the register, and every person was to have an obligation to acquire a code, and a card carrying the code, and to present that card in a wide variety of circumstances.[21] Although the Bill introducing the card was twice defeated in the Senate, in December 1986 and April 1987, the card was not an issue in the July 1987 elections, which were won by the incumbent Labor Government. Nonetheless a vigorous campaign of opposition led to the proposal being withdrawn in September 1987.

38. We consider in detail later in this report the concerns raised in the United Kingdom over the Government's proposals. The international experience clearly indicates that identity cards and population registers operate with public support and without significant problems in many liberal, democratic countries. In a number of these, the holding and even carrying of the card is compulsory and appears to be widely accepted. However, each country has its own social, political and legal culture and history: the nature of each identity scheme and population register reflects those unique elements. We cannot assume that any particular approach can be applied successfully in the UK. Nor can we yet draw on any significant international experience of the use of biometrics on the scale that is proposed in the UK.

1   Lord Goddard [Willcock v. Muckle] 26 June 1951 Back

2   The EU countries plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Back

3   Home Office, Identity Cards: a consultation document, CM 2879, May 1995 Back

4   Home Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 1995-96, HC172-I, para 11 Back

5   Home Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 1995-96, HC172-I, para 52 Back

6   HC172-I, para 56 Back

7   HC172-I, para 67 Back

8   HC172-I, para 78 Back

9   HC172-I, para 112 Back

10   HC172-I, para 116 Back

11   HC172-I, para 117 Back

12   HC172-I, para 126 Back

13   Home Office, The Government Reply to the Fourth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 1995-96, Cm 3362, August 1996 Back

14   Q 131; The incompatibilities arise not only from differences in format, but also because of the different purposes for which the data is required. Back

15 Back

16 Back

17 Back

18   Q 434 Back

19   Q 471 Back

20   Q 477 Back

21   Roger Clarke, The resistible rise of the national personal data system, Software Law Journal, 5.1 (January 1992) Back

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