28. Memorandum submitted by
The Law Society
In 1995 the Home Office issued a consultation
paper on the introduction of identity cards. In 1996, the Commons
Home Affairs Select Committee took evidence and published a report
on the Government proposal for an identity card scheme. In that
report, the Committee opposed the introduction of a multi-function
card containing a microchip and a database of personal information
because the technology was not fully developed. It also stated
that it posed great difficulties if the cards were lost or stolen,
and commented that such a card would have greater risks in respect
to privacy and data protection and that there was no support from
private sector groups.
In July 2002, the Home Office published a consultation
paper on the introduction of Entitlement Cards. The paper canvassed
whether to introduce a voluntary identity card scheme (in which
registration and use of the card is entirely at the discretion
of the individual) or a universal card scheme (in which all residents
over a certain age would be required to register, and the card
would be the only way to access certain services).
The Law Society is not opposed to a voluntary
identity card scheme in principle. However, we do have concerns
that in practice, a voluntary scheme could become in effect compulsory
as more and more organisations and service providers required
production of the card to prove identity.
In our response to the Home Office Consultation,
we expressed concerns about the proposals for a universal card
scheme. Although the consultation paper expressly stated that
it was not consulting on the introduction of a compulsory identity
card scheme, in our view such a scheme would effectively become
compulsory. Under proposals for a universal scheme, having a card
would become a requirement of access to certain State services,
in particular non-emergency health care and any State benefits.
The fact that under a "universal" scheme people would
not be required to produce a card under threat of criminal sanctions
does not make it voluntary if it is required to obtain access
The current proposals by the Home Office are
for an identity card scheme which may become compulsory. A move
towards compulsory ID cards is a marked shift in the position
of the Government, and one which requires full public debate.
Since the Home Office consulted on the introduction
of Entitlement Cards in July 2002, the Government has given a
number of different explanations as to why an identity card scheme
The introduction of a national ID card scheme
has been heralded as the answer to identity fraud and illegal
working; as an essential tool in the Government's fight against
crime and illegal immigration; and most recently it has been touted
as a means of combating health tourism.
These explanations have not satisfied informed
observers. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas stated
". . . I face a real difficulty knowing what the scheme that
is being proposed really amounts to. The consultation paper puts
forward a diverse range of purposes ranging from reducing identity
fraud to aiding voter registration, from facilitating access to
government services to assisting emergency medical treatment.
. . The existence of so many potential options makes it impossible
to come to any firm conclusion as to whether the benefits would
outweigh the risks to privacy, human rights and social values
quite apart from the financial cost."
The Home Office has reported that they have
received almost 5,000 responses to the consultation, and that
their own poll demonstrates significant support for the card.
Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, has reported that 5,031
emails about the scheme have been received via the Stand website
(a voluntary group seeking to increase democratic involvement
in the legislative process). Of these, more than 4,856over
97 per centexpressed views opposing an entitlement card
scheme, 44 expressed views in favour.
These statistics suggest that most people are
not yet convinced that the Government has made the case for the
benefits of a national ID card system. The shift in the Home Office's
position and the fact that an identity card scheme will impact
every resident in the UK leads us to believe that further consultation
with the public is needed.
The Law Society does not support the Government's
proposals for an identity card scheme. In our response to the
Home Office consultation, we highlighted concerns about proposals
for a universal identity card, in particular:
The effectiveness of the scheme in
Potential violations of human rights
and civil liberties
The cost of the scheme to individuals
The practical difficulties of starting
and running the scheme
These concerns have not been allayed.
Effectiveness of the Scheme
The Law Society does not believe an identity
card (whether voluntary, universal or compulsory) will be effective
for any of the Government's stated purposes.
If the intention is to combat identity fraud, we
believe the scheme will be ineffective.
The Home Office stated in the consultation paper
that a reduction in identity fraud is the main goal of the scheme,
but has failed to show that it could achieve this. The Government
has failed to show that similar schemes in other counties have
helped to reduce identity fraud. Indeed, in the USA, the universal
use of Social Security Numbersa scheme not unlike the one
the UK Government is proposinghas led to a huge growth
in identity fraud.
Despite a compulsory identity card scheme, France
continues to battle problems such as illegal working, illegal
immigration and identity fraudthe very things the Home
Office hopes to address with identity cards. If an identity card
has not eliminated these challenges in France, what makes the
Home Office believe that these problems can be resolved with an
identity card scheme in the UK?
The Home Office consultation notes the importance
of utilising more than one form to establish identity stating
that "organisations should make a number of checks from different
The consultation also states that "it is highly likely that
an entitlement card scheme would become the target of organised
criminals who would attempt to produce counterfeit cards. Even
if counterfeit cards could be detected by sophisticated checks,
many people might still be fooled by them and become victims of
The Home Office has admitted the risks of relying on a singe
form to prove identity, yet continues to press ahead with this
The abolition of identity cards in the UK in
the 1950s came after the realisation that they were unreliable
in proving identity; that they were easily forged by criminals;
and that they strained the relationship between the public and
the State. Sophisticated criminals have had little difficulty
in forging identification, such as passports. This existing lucrative
black market would be exacerbated by the demand for an entitlement
card that gives access to a wide range of services, and this could
increase identity fraudand therefore costsas the
Government is forced to update technology and renew cards to beat
If the intention is to tackle illegal working, we
believe the proposals will be ineffective.
Employers who are willing to employ people illegally
without National Insurance Cards are likely to continue employing
people illegally without identity cards.
Identity cards would not make it easier for
employers to check employees' entitlement to work in the UK, especially
if reading the cards required sophisticated equipment. Once forged
or improperly obtained cards were in circulation, employers might
have to request further ID in order to verify that a card was
The card scheme fails to address and remedy
the complex procedures for overseas workersindividuals
who may be domiciled in the UK but reside in other countries for
extended periods of timeand individuals who have time limits
attached to their cards but are out of the country.
If the intention is to reduce crime, we believe the
scheme would be irrelevant.
The biggest problem for the police is not in
identifying individuals, but rather in linking an individual to
a crime. An identity card would add nothing to the existing tools
available to the police.
If the police had access to personal information
contained on the central database, the result could be further
strain on the public's trust. The Home Office consultation paper
quite rightly identifies the fact that if the police were allowed
access to this information, it "might cause public unease
and lead to a lack of confidence in the overall entitlement card
If the intention is to eliminate health tourism,
we believe the card will be irrelevant.
The majority of people who are not able to get
on to GP lists tend to use hospital accident and emergency centres
for primary care. The Government's preliminary proposals prevent
anyone seeking accident and emergency treatment from having to
produce the card. The burden of deciding whether or not someone
is eligible to receive services should not fall upon the shoulders
of hospital staff.
Human Rights and Civil Liberties
Although the scheme currently proposed for an
identity card could only become compulsory through a vote in both
Houses of Parliament, if the scheme did become compulsory, law
enforcement agencies could seek powers to require individuals
to produce the card on request. Pressure to allow a range of officials
to demand to see the cards would surely follow.
There is evidence that compulsory cards damage
community relations, as certain groups feel they are disproportionately
targeted by the authoritiesas the Black and Asian communities
feel now about the use of stop and search powers.
Furthermore, the barriers to registering for
a card could exacerbate social exclusion. Loss or theft of the
card, or administrative failure, could result in services becoming
unobtainable to those who most need them. This could also have
a negative impact on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, such
as those with complex or frequently-changing personal information;
homeless people; people suffering mental illnesses; older people;
ethnic minorities; people on low incomes; foreign residents; immigrants
and asylum seekers.
In France, a country with compulsory identity
cards, there exists a class of people who do not have identity
cards (sans papiers) and who therefore can not access services.
The Home Office consultation paper fails to
outline how issues of data protection will be addressed. The paper
outlines how one central register would be most cost efficient,
but fails to describe the "stringent safeguards" there
will be on personal data. Due to a history of IT blunders, the
public will have little faith in a large scale scheme without
radical (and expensive) investment in technology which has been
tested and demonstrated to be secure before any scheme comes into
It would be crucial that people had confidence
that highly personal information would be kept confidential. However,
the Government is damaging confidence with statements that indicate
information could be made available without consent.
The Society fears that there is a real threat that data collected
for the scheme could end up being used for other purposes.
Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has
questioned the Government's proposals. "We need greater clarity
about the main purposes behind an effectively mandatory entitlement
card. How can we be sure that the unique personal number and a
central register will never be used to track all our various interactions
with the state and others?"
Cost of the Scheme
It is becoming apparent that the scheme will
be extremely costly both to the Government and to individuals.
The Government has estimated the following costs for the scheme
over a 13 year period:
£1,318 million for plain plastic
£1,640 million for simple smartcards;
£3,145 million for more sophisticated
Even if only the most basic scheme was introduced,
spending well over a billion pounds on an initiative with no proven
benefits raises concerns. This is money that could perhaps be
better spent putting more police officers on the beat, or developing
a wider range of other security measures to stop terrorism, identity
fraud and other crimes.
It has been announced that individuals will
have to pay £35 for a plain ID card and up to £77 for
a passport or identity card with biometric data. How can this
new poll tax be justified?
If the ID card is to become the only required
source to prove one's identity, how will the cards will be read;
and what equipment will be needed to do so? If a machine is required
to read biometric data stored on the card, will all organisations,
post offices, GP surgeries etc. be required to have a machine?
If so, are the costs of supplying machine readers included in
the cost estimates?
Implementing a nation-wide identity card scheme
would not only be extremely costly, it would involve enormous
practical difficulties. The practical hurdles, some of which are
identified in the consultation paper, are likely to make the scheme
unworkable. Benefits would be maximised if the card included biometric
information and an updateable chip, but including this technology
requires a massive administrative support system to ensure its
It was not long ago that this Government scrapped
its predecessors' plans for a benefit payment card to replace
insecure Order Books and Giros, claiming it was too difficult
to computerise up to 20 million claimants.
How does the Home Office see a scheme computerising an estimated
60 million individuals as being readily achievable?
The Home Office consultation on entitlement
cards states that although "allocation of NI numbers to adults
has been tightened, there remain some instances where people have
been issued with more than one NI number. It is unwise to rely
on a number where there are known problems with data quality".
If the existing systems have problems of data quality and the
issuing of more than one card to individuals, how will the identity
card system be any different?
In a report highlighting the challenges within
the passport system
the National Audit Office found that:
During 1999 maximum processing times
in the Passport Agency's regional offices ranged between 25 and
50 days, compared to the Agency's target of 10 working days.
By June 1999, around 565,000 applications
were awaiting processing compared to a [still serious from an
ID card point of view] figure of 300,000 the previous year.
Registering for the new identity cards will
have to take place in person so that biometric data can be scanned.
We have already highlighted how this may adversely effect vulnerable
groups, but it will also have considerable repercussions for the
Government. The administrative burden that will be associated
with issuing these cards will fall to those issuing driving licenses,
passports, separate identity cards, and presumably Britain's consulates
around the world, which issue a large portion of visas by post.
History shows that all types of cards are forgeable.
From National Insurance Numbers to passports, each scheme administered
has been linked with forgery and a profitable black market; has
been riddled with technological problems, and has cost taxpayers
a great deal of money. The Government's proposals do not demonstrate
that these problems will not recur.
For the most part, in order to reap the benefits
outlined by the Government, identity cards would have to be issued
to everyone who was lawfully resident in the UK, and would have
to include the highest level of biometric data possiblemaking
the cost prohibitive. There is unlikely to be much public confidence
in the Government's ability to deliver a safe and secure system.
The Law Society seriously doubts whether an
identity card scheme would significantly reduce the incidence
of identity fraud, or of other crimes. But it would increase the
administrative burden on the police and, put a heavy financial
burden on government and individuals.
40 The Home Affair Committee (1996) Fourth Report
Identity Cards Volume I p. xxxiv, 128. Back
BBC Politics Show, the Today Programme, BBC Radio 4. Back
See the Information Commissioner's response to the Home Office
Consultation on Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud (31 January
Hansard Reports 17 June Column 153W. It was reported that a further
131 [emails] contained obvious false information, for example
a made-up email address or were judged highly likely to be duplicates.
Home Office Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud: A Consultation
Paper p.30, 3.11. Back
Ibid p.30, 3.11. Back
Ibid p.37, 3.29. Back
Thomas, Richard (13 February 2003) Press Release Information
Commissioner Voices Concerns over Entitlement Cards http://www.dataprotection.gov.uk/dpr/dpdoc1.nsf Back
Lilley, Peter (2002) The Observer: ID cards-A Dumb Idea and Dangerous
Home Office Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud: A Consultation
Paper p. 24, 2.31. Back
"The Passport Delays of Summer 1999" (NAO, 1999). Back