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Mr. Garnier: I invite the Home Secretary to be quite careful about this. I do not want him to mislead himself or anybody else. Is there not a difference between the international obligation and what the Government require? Under the international obligation, biometric information that can be read by a passport officer's machine appears on the face of the passport. What the Government require us to do is to provide biometric information on the passport that can be read by, and stored in, the national identity register. There is quite a difference of quality and principle that the Government keep eliding.
Mr. Clarke: The hon. and learned Gentleman is right in one respect. We are in an evolving situation as far as the international requirements are concerned. That applies to the EU, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the UN Security Council resolution. It is equally the case that many countries are evolving their own systemswhether they go for the number of biometrics that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) mentioned, for biometrics for all 10 fingers and thumbs or the 13 that we will have for our ID cards. It is also true that there are different states of decision in different countries on those points. All is evolving. However, both within the EU and in the dialogue between the EU and the United States that has explicitly addressed these matters, including in the G8 context, the overwhelming view is to move towards the most rigorous form of biometrics for fundamental documents such as passports and visas. That is the point that I am trying to make.
Keith Vaz : Has my right hon. Friend seen the report published today by the Commission for Racial Equality in which it specifically talks about the use of biometrics in relation to the black community and about the difficulties with the technology?
Mr. Clarke: I have seen that report. If one considers different biometrics, one sees that there are different issues for different communities. The biometrics for the face, the iris and for fingerprints and thumbprints give rise to different issues in each case. However, as I know my hon. Friend will accept, the point is simple and straightforward. The more biometrics we have, the more reliable and fraud-proof is the system. For example, it is better to have biometrics for all 10 fingers and thumbs than it is to have them for one.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab):
My passport is coming up for renewal. I will have to offer biometric
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data and I understand that, but what about the non-biometric data and the registrable facts that we would have to offer as part of the process of getting an ID card?
Mr. Clarke: I made the point earlier that the non-biometric facts that will be required for the identity card will be broadly the same as those needed for passports, residence and immigration documents and other purposes. It is not the case that more information will be requested. In fact, less information will be required for the ID card than for some other purposes.
"We are designing the scheme in such a way that there is no direct access to the Register itself by organisationsGovernment or non-Governmentwho want to verify a card-holder's identity. Organisations will be able to use an identity verification service to verify basic identity information".
Mr. Clarke: I need to make it clear that the register will be the record of each citizen's biometrics and a limited amount of other data relating to them, such as name, sex and so on. It will be a basic database for each of those people. The service to which I referred in the letter to my hon. Friend would enable other agencies, whether governmental or non-governmental, to use the data for the purpose of verification. An organisation that wants to use the central data will work via a verification service, which was the distinction that I was trying to draw.
Mr. Ellwood: The Government's figures show that while £1.3 billion is lost due to fraud each year, identity-related fraud accounts for between £20 million and £50 million a year. That amount is considerably less than the £85 million cost of implementing the ID card system, as we established in Committee. The scheme will be an expensive, intrusive and unproven way of tackling ID fraud.
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman raised that matter during previous stages of the Bill's consideration. We will debate costs when we consider Lords amendment No. 1. The most recent estimate of the cost of identity fraud throughout the country is £1.7 billion. That is a significant amount, so we must address the problem.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD):
I know that the right hon. Gentleman wants to make progress, but will he answer a question? I am vexed that he does not entertain the possibility that storing the information centrally will create the opportunity for corruption and the abuse of information. What would he say to those of us who think that the concentration of data in itself will create a considerable temptation for organised criminals to hack into the information and thus institute other methods of fraud and ways of achieving identity theft?
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Only one question needs to be asked about security: will the system that we are creating be more or less susceptible to fraud than the system that we have now? I argue strongly that the system that we are creating will be less susceptible to fraud, whether we are considering passports that are used fraudulently, or the variety of ways in which identity fraud is committed. Of course we will have to consider fraud under the new system, but we must compare the system that we are establishing with the existing system.
David Davis: I shall make this intervention as constructively as I can. The simple truth is that the test is not simply whether the system will be better than that which we have now. Given that we will be spending a large sum, we must consider whether the system will be the best that might be available. Plenty of identity card systems do not challenge individual privacy or require massive central databases, but are far more secure than the system that the right hon. Gentleman proposes.
Mr. Clarke: With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that he is correct. The distinguishing aspect of the scheme is the move towards using fingerprint biometrics and other biometrics. To respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, some 30 countries already intend to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. As I said, the United States is increasing its programme. In my opinion it would be utterly foolish of us not to take advantage of the advances in biometrics to increase our security, and that is the intention behind the proposal.
Mr. Wallace: If the Home Secretary is so confident in his proposal for a central database, why did the Home Office last month invite a number of technology companies and biometrics experts to submit proposals to put biometrics on cards as part of the ID scheme?
Mr. Clarke: We had a substantial discussion with the whole industry about our proposals to ensure that we work as best we can with the most up-to-date technologies. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) was right to say that the technology is fast moving. Many companies are involvedmany British companies are in the lead, by the wayand we want to work closely with them. That is an intelligent course for us to follow.
My argument is that the ID cards system brings substantial benefits to both individuals and society and that the opt-out proposed by the Lords puts those benefits at risk. Focusing on passports and residence permits means that we can target a manageable number of people each year who will go through the process and minimise uncertainties that would otherwise apply to rolling out the scheme nationally. The benefits of the ID cards scheme will grow steadily as more people obtain
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their cards. By linking the process with the issue or renewal of a document such as a passport, which around 80 per cent. of the population already holds, there will be a manageable roll-out of the ID cards scheme. That is surely in the public interest. If those hon. Members who say that they are concerned about the cost of the scheme really do want to avoid excessive costs, they should accept the logic of combining the process of issuing ID cards with the issuing of passports or immigration documents.
In practice, of course, the process of obtaining a passport and an ID card will be combined in future, so issuing the two documents as a package will be just as convenient as applying for a biometric passport. When we introduce passports with fingerprint biometrics, the process of obtaining a passport and an ID card will be so similar as to make the need to combine the two quite obvious.
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