Concerns of principle
51. Privacy International and Liberty opposed identity
cards on constitutional grounds. They argued, firstly, that identity
cards would fundamentally change the balance between citizens
and the state by imposing a general requirement to prove one's
own identity. Shami
Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, said: "From a constitutional
point of view, it is worth noting that there is not a single compulsory
identifier in any other common law tradition in the world and
that demonstrates the heart of the argument."
(We note that the Home Office have disputed the argument that
no common law countries have identity cards, pointing within the
EU to Cyprus, "a common law jurisdiction which has identity
cards which all Cypriot citizens over the age of 12 have to obtain".)
52. Secondly, it was argued that there would be a
new requirement to register information, including sensitive personal
biometric data, with the state. This is a significant new obligation
on the individual citizen which will be intrusive in operation.
53. Thirdly, while it might be acceptable to have
to demonstrate identity, and hence entitlement, to specific services
for specific purposes, the imposition by the state of a single
system of identification which had to be used for a wide variety
of different purposesrather than the current reliance on
different forms of identification for different purposeswas
a significant change in the obligation placed on individuals and
the relationship they have with public and private bodies.
54. Fourthly, because in principle information about
individuals should be held only for particular purposes, there
were currently proper limits on the proper sharing of data between
public bodies. To the extent that an identity card system required
wider sharing of information between different bodies and organisations,
the privacy of individuals would be reduced.
55. Simon Davies, the Director of Privacy International,
argued that the Government's proposals would be in breach of the
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) since the concept of
privacy intrusion was culturally relative and the current proposal
would fundamentally change the nature of privacy in the United
Kingdom without overriding justification.
Liberty, however, took the view that while the European Court
on Human Rights might not find any difficulty with identity cards,
since the majority of European countries had them, courts in the
UK would have to take a stricter approach to Article 8 of the
ECHR, which covers the right to respect for family and private
56. The Director of Liberty further argued that experience
in other European countries showed that identity cards would tend
to worsen relations with minority groups, by exacerbating existing
tensions. (The issue
of how identity cards would affect vulnerable groups, including
minority ethnic groups, is covered in more detail in paragraphs
57. Witnesses opposed to identity cards on principle
also doubted that their benefits would be in proportion to their
drawbacks. The Director of Liberty said that their constitutional
concerns would have to be rebutted "by very compelling justification
to the contrary that is necessary and proportionate".
For his part, the Director of Privacy International accepted that
a simple identity card for specific purposes might well be lawful.
Many witnesses argued that no proper cost-benefit analysis had
been done of identity cards and that the Government had not demonstrated
that they would be the most effective way of tackling problems.
58. We do not think these objections of principle
should be lightly dismissed. Nonetheless, it is clear that identity
systems operate in other modern, liberal, functioning democracies.
No challenge to identity cards has been successful in the European
Court on Human Rights, and they appear to enjoy broad public support
where they exist in the rest of Europe.
59. An identity card scheme of the sort and on
the scale proposed by the Government would undoubtedly represent
a significant change in the relationship between the state and
the individual in this country. International experience
does not suggest that objections of principle are overwhelming,
although the development of a biometric-based scheme does introduce
new elements that have not been tested elsewhere. We do not, however,
believe that an identity card scheme should be rejected on constitutional
60. The test should be whether the measures needed
to install and operate an effective identity card system are proportionate
to the benefits such a system would bring and to the problems
to be tackled and whether such a scheme is the most effective
means of doing so. We
examine these aspects in more detail in the next section.
61. Some witnesses argued that the Government's proposals
would not work or that the risks were unacceptable.
62. Professor Martyn Thomas, representing the UK
Computing Research Committee, said:
"There is a technical systems engineering
issue here which is captured in popular wisdom by "don't
put all your eggs in one basket". If you create either a
single card that has multi functions or a single database then
you are adding to the nation's critical infrastructure unnecessarily
and by doing that you are making a very large range of services,
probably a growing range of services, vulnerable to a single attack,
either a deliberate attack or a fault that arises as a consequence
of mis-implementation or accident. "
The UK Computing Research Committee also expressed
significant concerns over the security of a comprehensive system
on the scale proposed. They argued that any sensitive database
available to a large number of users would almost inevitably be
successfully attacked. Therefore, data on the system should be
kept to the minimum.
On the other hand, as noted in paragraph 146, other witnesses
from the IT and smart card sector took the view that a single
database could be made sufficiently secure, and that to create
one was not of itself doomed to failure.
63. Professor Ross Anderson, Chair of the Foundation
for Information Policy Research, an Internet policy think-tank,
also argued that the more functions included in a system, the
more fragile, difficult to maintain and expensive it became. Other,
non-technical witnesses, however, were of the view that an identity
card scheme would be of little use unless it enabled access to
a range of services and facilitated joined-up government.
64. We consider the arguments for and against the
technical aspects of the Government's proposals in more detail
in the next section. The proposed system is unprecedentedly
large and complex. It will contain sensitive personal information
on tens of millions of individuals. Any failure will significantly
affect the functioning of public and private services and personal
and national security. Measures to ensure the integrity of the
design, implementation and operation of the system must be built
in to every aspect of its development. As we will remark at a
number of points throughout this report, the Government's lack
of clarity about the scope and practical operation of the scheme,
and the nature of the procurement process, does not give us confidence
that this will be achieved. We will make recommendations for addressing
this serious weakness later in the report.
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