David Davis: My hon. Friend offers me an attractive option, because I have a prejudice in favour of the commissioner reporting to the House rather than to the Government, just as the Comptroller and Auditor General and the ombudsman do. That would be a better arrangement, because it would give us more control over something that will affect civil liberties. Something else that my hon. Friend reminds me of is the fact that he is now raising a matter that is addressed about four fifths of the way through my speech, so I must make some progress before I take any more interventions.
There are several other reasons why the Bill deserves detailed consideration. The use of biometric technology is set to become widespread over the next few years. It is worth considering putting it to use within a statutory frameworksomething that the Bill allows us to do. Similarly, in recent years it has become both legally and technically possible to pass large quantities of data about British citizens around governmentindeed, for any arm of government to know more about any individual than at any time in history. That is already the case. Those data, plus the national identity register, are of more importance for privacy than the card itself, which is almost irrelevant in that respect. An important part of the Bill must be to put statutory control on the use and deployment of existing data.
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab): Would the right hon. Gentleman bring in some kind of legislation to stop the use of supermarket loyalty cards, which can tell people what food we buy, when we buy it and when we eat it?
David Davis: Such cards are entirely voluntary, and people can decide how much information to provide, which is not the case with the state. As I shall say later in my speech, the use or misuse that the state can make of such data is much more serious than what any commercial concern can do with it.
Identity cards already exist in practice, as passports and driving licences, and already, for asylum seekers, as application registration cards. It is worth considering the introduction of the framework that encompasses them all. We must ask ourselves whether ID cards are a necessary fact of life in the post-9/11 world. We must accept that the modern world, with its increasing use of new and emerging technologies, requires new safeguards and frameworks to govern how information is used, particularly by the state.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that many asylum seekerscertainly those I speak tofind application registration cards a great boon, and a quick and painless way of establishing their
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identity and their entitlement to benefits? The people who receive such cards largely welcome them, because in the past they had to use a tatty old Home Office form, which could not be used for two purposes at the same time. It was a great advantage to them when the new cards were introduced.
David Davis: The hon. Gentleman may be right, but that highlights a point that I shall come to in a momentthe importance of being very clear about what the cards are for. An entitlement card is different from other sorts of card.
Mr. Shepherd: My right hon. Friend, like many others, has used the phrase "post-9/11". 9/11 was a profound and direct assault on the United States, yet although it has the same common law traditions as we do, that country has no intention of introducing identity cards. Does that not affect my right hon. Friend's judgment in such matters?
David Davis: Yes, it does, but the use of driving licences as straightforward identification in the United States is common. The vast majority of Americans carry driving licencesphoto IDso there is a distinction. We start from different positions. [Hon. Members: "We've got driving licences."] We do not have photo ID yet. We have to consider this matter from where Britain is, and we shall consider it very critically throughout the passage of the Bill, as hon. Members will gather in a minute.
Kate Hoey : I must correct the right hon. Gentleman. We are talking about the United Kingdom, and many of us who are citizens of it who come from Northern Ireland have had photographic driving licences for many years.
David Davis: The hon. Lady is of course exactly rightI shall return later to the question of the purpose for which such identification was requiredbut the simple truth is that such licences are not universal. What we are arguing about today is whether we should adopt such a system for the entire United Kingdom.
Incidentally, the Home Secretary did not deal properly with the issue of the common travel area, which is a critical weakness of the proposal. Unless Eire adopts a system of its own that is compatible with ours, we will have a weakness in that regard.
Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that only last week, the European Union agreed to introduce biometric travel documents throughout the EU. Over time, that will addressas, of course, will this systemthe very point that was so appropriately raised by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).
The Home Secretary rightly made much of the views of people such as the police, who tell us that ID cards will help them to wage a war on crime; indeed, the security services also tell us that they are a useful weapon against terrorism. So when the Minister winds up, will he tell us whether the security services or the police have made a formal request that ID cards be implemented? This is an important issue and if they did make such a request, we need to take it very seriously.
Mr. Browne: I am very grateful. Both the security services and the police have said that the single most important thing that we could do to interdict terrorism is to introduce a secure form of identity into the United Kingdom. I know that the Leader of the Opposition was very impressed by that advice, as was I. I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman means by a "formal request", and if I am to answer him in the wind-up, perhaps he ought to explain. Once the police and the security services tell us their views on this issue, they do not need further to inform us formally.
David Davis: A "formal" request is just that. Did the police and the security services write to the Minister or the Home Secretary asking them to introduce ID cards? If not, different issues arise, which I might discuss later.
I turn to our five tests, the first of which is clarity of purpose. One of the main objections to the 1940s wartime identity card was mission creep: at the outset, the card had three distinct purposes; it ended with 39. In the debate leading up to the Bill and in the response to the consultation process, the Government claimed that a national identity card is needed to allow access to benefits and services; to provide proof of age; for voter registration, crime reduction and immigration purposes; to tackle terrorism, money laundering, people trafficking and identity fraud; and to provide access to private services. It is important to know which of these is the priority, since different services and purposes demand different types of card. Entitlement cards, for example, do not have to be universalas was pointed out earliernor do they have to be carried.
On the other hand, it is difficult to see how a card that does not have to be carried will be effective against terrorism or illegal immigration. Are we to ask
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Mr. bin Laden to turn up at his local police station within three days to show his card? Obviously not. So the Government must make clear the specific purposes for which an ID card is required, and in particular, which of those purposes are the priorities. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to assess them. Where no individual purpose is specified, it must be made clear that an ID card is not a requirement.
Secondly, as some Labour Members have pointed out, we must be clear about the technology's capabilities. Biometrics technology is not infallible. Fingerprints and iris scans cannot always easily be taken, and the technology can be fooled. The system must be robust from start to finishfrom the card and biometric reader, through the communication system, and into the central computer, database and software. It must be impossible for a virus to enter the system. It is easy to conceive a virus that causes the database to give the wrong responses when a particular biometricsuch as a fingerprintis entered, or that conceals the existence of duplicate identities, thus corrupting the system's two key purposes. It is vital to this project's progress that the public and the authorities be clear about the technology's weaknesses, as well as its strengths.