|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, a moment ago the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said that it was not for lawyers or judges to protect individual freedoms, but for a democratic society to do so. It is an interesting thought that, in April this year, there were protests in Shanghai aimed at the Japanese consulate. The point causing the protests was that, in the view of the people of China, Japanese textbooks played down the Japanese atrocities in the last war. At first, the government of China appeared to support the protests because it was part of their policy to do so, but after about a fortnight they got nervous, and hundreds of policemen turned up at Tiananmen Square. To do what? To check and record the numbers of the identity cards of people who were out to protest. It was a method of controlling their protest, so that people would know that if they wanted to take to the streets for any reasonwhether the government supported it or notthey were marked people and the government would know who they were. Imagine if that were to have happened during the march against the war prior to the invasion of Iraq, and what riots there would have been in this country if the police had set out to
31 Oct 2005 : Column 50
mark and number the identity cards of people taking part in that protest, or indeed any protest that has taken place over the past few years.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, made huge claims for identity cards. They were apparently the answer to globalised crime, and would prevent terrorism, forgery and fraud. It seemed rather like saying that the possession of a driving licence would prevent road traffic offences.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, that is right. Nevertheless, the claim was put forward that if there was policingjust as there was in Shanghai and in Tiananmen Square by the Chinese policeall those problems would be solved. Those of us who practise in the criminal courts treat that sort of suggestion with some reserve.
It is said that the Bill will protect my identity. I think that it hands over the control of my identity to a central government database. As my noble friend Lord Holme put it, it puts my identity at the disposal of the state. It is not just the basic information that will be on the database; it will be cross-referenced by numbers to my medical records, tax records, work records andif I have themcriminal records. The history of this country is a struggle against authoritarian regimes such as those of Napoleon and Hitler, and against collective societies for individual freedom. Knowing the history of the party represented opposite, it strikes me as strange that it should set about creating an instrument that may be manipulated in future for authoritarian reasons. Knowledge is power, and we are putting power in the hands of a government who may in future have the most malign intentions.
Why do I say that? Under Clause 19, data that I have provided to the central register may be handed over without my consent, and without my knowledge, to the intelligence servicesmuch good it will do them. It may also be handed over to the police, the tax authoritiesthat could be a little more interestingthe VAT authorities and any designated government department. I simply will not know if the information collected about my private life has been handed over to all those government departments to use as they will. Clause 14 is about the provision by the Secretary of State of registrable facts for verification with consent, so if I consent certain pieces of my private information may be handed over to accredited organisations. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, that could be a mortgage provider, a bank or a retailer. When I want to buy something or get a loan, I have to give the answers to questions that are held in the database. I really would object in Sainsbury's to having to tell the person behind the till my mother's maiden name. As it was Jones, it would not help anyone very much in Wales.
The other matter that concerns me is whether the register is accurate. I would like to see clearly set out in the Bill a right for the citizen to see what is on his file.
31 Oct 2005 : Column 51
I recall that secret files were at one time kept on lawyers by the Lord Chancellor's Department. A colleague of mine suffered for many years from information that he subsequently discovered was on his files suggesting that, confused with me, he had lost eight successive general elections as a Liberal candidate. It held his career back enormously. Is the register accurate? Nothing in the Bill that I can see gives the citizen the right to see what is there.
Even though the citizen does not know what is on the register, he is under a duty on pain of a penalty of £1,000 to notify any inaccurate information that may be on the registerwhich he has never seen. He has to notify every change of address from the age of 16 onwards. Does anybody begin to appreciate the bureaucracy and form-filling that that means for students, who move from one address to another? He also has to provide the times during which he has resided in different places in the United Kingdom. For six months I am in Scotland and for six months in Wales, and then I move on somewhere else, but the times that I am in those various places have to be put on the register if it is to be accurate. Every change of name has to be registered. I do not think that that is a problem for my noble friend Lady Walmsleyshould I now say, since a week ago, my noble kinsman?as she intends to retain her own name. However, many people change their names on marriage, and will be under the penalty of £1,000 if they do not fill the form in and send it off to the register.
Forms, bureaucracy, costto what end? Surely a balance has to be struck. As a criminal practitioner, I do not see how the identity card will solve crime, dispose of terrorism and all the other things that are claimed for it. That is rubbish. I do not see what other benefits there will be for benefit fraud. As has already been said, in benefit fraud it is not so much identity that is an issue, but a person claiming when they are earning an income and so on. All that has to be weighed against the loss of my freedom. Why should the state know everything about me? How can I be manipulated in futurepressured to change my views, perhapsby government departments because they have information about me that I wish to reserve to myself?
The public have given their support in opinion polls to the concept of identity cards, but I do not think that they have really grasped the problem. The problem is not the little piece of brown cardboard that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and I remember being carried around during the Second World War. It is not even a little card. It is the database behind it that tells the Government everything there is to know about you. Do the people of this country want that? Do they appreciate what the Bill is about? I give way.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, think that it would
31 Oct 2005 : Column 52
have been rubbish if Ian Huntley had been requested to produce an identity card before he took his job at the Soham school?
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, that is perhaps an unfortunate example because I gather that the records were not accurate in his case. That is the problem when the information on the central database is not accurate, and that makes my case. I shall not weary your Lordships any further.
Obviously, most of the reasons that I shall give in support of identity cards will be based on my own experience. This ongoing debate about identity cards has been one of claim and counterclaim. Those who have championed the cards see them as a golden bullet that will eliminate terrorism and all crime. Those who oppose them see them as a monstrous diversion with the Government spending billions which would be better spent on better and more effective policing, and an enormous attack on civil liberties. As usual, in these situations, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
I see the development of identity cards as part of the ongoing technological evolution of our passport system. It is inevitable. Today, as my noble friend Lord Giddens said, because of globalisation our very way of life and the structure of our economy and society require the international movement of people to a degree that would have staggered our forefathers. The figures that my noble friend gave regarding the number of people travelling through airports were staggering. Of course, we need secure methods of proof of identity to facilitate, and not hinder, free movement. Driving economic and social integration, that freedom of movement is available to those with the good intentions of doing business, creating jobs and opening up markets, but it is also available to those with less noble intentions.
It is in that environment that I believe the question of identity and identity theft becomes a major problem. The explosion in information technology has made the world a much smaller place. When there was a paper trail, identity fraud was always possible but it was difficult. One irony is that, with electronic systems, identity theft has become a great deal easier. The scope for a catastrophic error over identity is greatly amplified by the information being passed through a computer. To some extent, new technology has been the source of the problem but it also has the power to be the solution. It is not the computer that is important; it is the way that data are entered.
In this new world, I believe that the move towards an electronic system of identity in the form of a national identity card system is an inevitable process. As someone who undertakes complex transactions internationally, proof of identity is one of those significant botheration factors with which one has to
31 Oct 2005 : Column 53
contend in every transaction. I am not complaining. The regulations and rules that have been put in place are there to protect me as much as anyone else. They are essential if we are to combat money laundering and illegal trafficking. But the problems highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in relation to botheration will arise anyway. We should not be alarmed by this process. After all, our system of issuing passports has, over time, gone through a process of constant evolution.
Today, of course, as travel has become even more common and criminals have become ever more sophisticated, we are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the criminals by developing our passports as ever more secure documents. However, as technology develops, the factors that we are able to use for identification purposes have expanded vastly. That is a good thing. The more factors we can employ in a person's identification, the higher the chance of getting it right.
Clearly, the statistical use of biographical data or biometrics has opened up some new possibilities. Biometric identification becomes possible with modern sensors and modern information technology. That is why biometric systems are sweeping the world. Already more than 30 countries have embarked on using biometric systems for identity purposes. As a technologist, I have no doubt whatever about the security of the system. Some of the systems that are being, and have been, developed are so sophisticated that a high degree of information is not needed for the unique identification of a person .
I am sure that noble Lords are well aware that since 9/11 extra levels of security have been demanded for entry into the United States. On entry into the US, all visitors have their fingerprints and facial biometrics recorded. That has had a knock-on effect across the world. Particularly for those of us who are non-Anglo-Saxons, even with UK passports, getting into the US is very time-consuming and seems to make us somehow more suspicious to the authorities.
It is not just the US where that happens. Except in India, I am a member of an ethnic minority wherever I go, and one gets used to the fact that one is always randomly stopped and searched in most advanced countries. That is not just paranoia. Recently on returning to the UK, I was asked by officials whether I could speak English. Naturally I said, "Yes, just a little". So is it any wonder that, even with my passport, I feel that my identity would be better demonstrated if I had a more secure and definitive identity document.
Biometric identity cards are therefore a necessary part of a modern state's toolkit when it comes to protecting the citizen. What is more, they are also a necessary protection for the member of an ethnic minority who seeks to demonstrate his identity and his right to be in a particular place at a particular time. I am not averse to carrying identity cards all the time. In Britain, we have a tremendous record of letting people travel without let or hindrance, and that is something that we must protect. We need to be able to prove our identity wherever we may be. It is true that in many
31 Oct 2005 : Column 54
ways modern security requirements are the bane of our lives, but they are the necessary flipside of the enormous social and economic benefits of globalisation and freedom of movement.
I know that, for many, the very thought of having to carry proof of identity is offensive. Yet only the other day I was caught without any identification when I tried to pick up a parcel from the post office. As someone who does not carry his gas bill around with him, I had none of the necessary approved documents that would have demonstrated my identity, and that meant that I had to make a return journey.
The questions that we have to answer at this stage are really of a technical nature: what information do we need to keep on an individual; how secure is the information being stored on us; and, is the whole project feasible? That is entirely to do with vaulting in computers. It is not rocket science; it is purely a question of how we vault information in the computer and how we retrieve it.
Today, a huge amount of information or data are already stored on us. Someone asked why we should answer when asked for our mother's maiden name. If you do not give your mother's maiden name, you cannot get into some of the funds into which you want to invest. You will be asked your mother's maiden name and your date of birth before you do anything. Today, the information held on individuals has to be correct and the individual must have the right to know what is kept on his record. That is already the case under data protection legislation. That is very important. We all know that misinformation and plain untruths often travel a great deal faster than the truth.
We must have absolute confidence in the privacy and security of the national identity register. After all, if identity theft is a problem now, imagine what a problem it would be if an identity could be stolen from the register. It is vital to ensure that we have in place the necessary constitutional checks and balances and that both the accuracy of any register and its security are safeguarded. That is the role of the National Identity Scheme Commissioner. We must also remember that we are talking about an IT system and we must have an unprecedented level of security. It can be designed in such a way as to prevent failure and attacks in all forms, including data theft, disruption, distortion and corruption. Importantly, that will mean not subcontracting the work out to the lowest bidder, not allowing the private sector to use the register for commercial exploitation or outsourcing any aspect of the register, including data entry, to some low-cost foreign centre.
The final question is whether the project is feasible. I believe the answer has to be yes. We have the ability to manage large databases on this scale and they will be able to deliver the information we want quickly enough for it to be usable. It is also possible to build the necessary stability and resilience into the system to ensure full failure protection with zero downtime. After all, we cannot have a system which, when one arrives at Heathrow at 11 o'clock at night, says, "Your identity is occupied at the moment, please try later".
31 Oct 2005 : Column 55
There are ways to avoid pitfalls and to overcome the teething problems that any system will bring with it; that is by rolling out the system gradually and fine-tuning the processes and equipment as we go along, setting the parameters to the application. We have to understand the capabilities of this technology. Equally, we have to know what it cannot do and set ourselves the task of delivering a system that is effective but practical. If I have a fear, it is not that the system will not work, but that it will succeed beyond our expectations.
About five years ago, I was hospitalisedrushed into A&E at midnight. A young, overworked casualty doctor came to me and said, "Can you speak English? What is the matter with you, and be quick?". Fortunately, once diagnosed, I was quickly on the road to recovery. A national identity card would not eliminate rudeness, but I can see that there would be pressure to include on a successful identity system key medical questions, prescriptions, medical reports and, as we move towards genetic fingerprinting, our DNA.
As the Government face pressure to reduce the number of separate back-office systems for different government departments, pressure will mount for common data sets. Tax or employment information, VAT registration, and so on could all be incorporated into a data set. That is where the issues of organisation and the right to access documents becomes critical. That has nothing to do with the technical problems. There is a point where knowledge about a person becomes power over that person. That is the point at which we become a police state. I believe that when the Government ask to increase the amount of information centrally held on a person, that has to be decided by Parliament.
Lastly, on the issue of access, I am reassured that the mechanisms put in place to ensure security of access are now being handled very well. They are easily handled because some of the very secure information that is held in computers now is pretty secure, but what about when one is overseas? What access will foreign governments have to information about us? There are some, I am sure noble Lords will agree, who cannot be trusted with more than the basic facts of identification. I believe that those issues can be resolved as one of our ambitions is to protect our freedom of movement. However, we have to be conscious of how our systems fit into a complex international picture, where many countries will not be as technologically advanced as we are. I welcome the opportunity to raise these issues but, none the less, ask the House to support the Second Reading of the Bill.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|