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Secret services to be given access to ID card database

London Independent | October 28 2004

The intelligence services will be given unprecedented access to the government database underpinning the controversial identity card scheme, the Home Office said yesterday, prompting accusations of Big Brother-style surveillance of people's everyday lives.

The plan emerged as David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced "refinements" to his ID card proposals, saying that the central register containing the cards' information would provide a "full audit trail" of when and where they were used. This could include every time holders use public services - including hospitals, benefits offices or colleges - buy an expensive item or make large withdrawals from banks.

The Home Office insisted that only the security services, such as MI5 and MI6, and not police or government officials, would be allowed to access the data.

But a spokesman for Liberty, the civil liberties organisation, said: "It's very easy to say today that only intelligence services could access this information. But they can't say that would be the case in five years' time. Once the information is in the system, it's open to misuse."

The Liberal Democrat MP, Bob Russell, of the Home Affairs Select Committee , said: "We've entered the world of George Orwell's 1984 20 years late."

The Home Office also announced yesterday that the Government had scrapped the idea of combining the ID card with passports and driving licences. Having assessed the "cost, implementation and risk considerations", it said it had decided to introduce a separate, free-standing card.

Under Mr Blunkett's proposals, the cards will include "biometric" details of each cardholder, such as fingerprints, an electronic scan of the face or the iris. These unique features will be compared against records held on a central National Identity Register - theoretically making the cards impossible to forge.

The Home Office had originally planned to phase in ID cards from 2007-08, as people applied for new or replacement passports, with combined driving licences and ID cards following a few years later. However, passport applicants from 2007-08 onwards will now get a new biometric passport and a separate biometric ID card.

The moves were announced in response to a recent report from the Home Affairs Select Committee, which broadly welcomed the ID card plans, but warned that some details were "poorly thought out".

This week Tony Blair said ID cards had an "important role" to play in fighting serious crime and terrorism and tackling illegal immigration, and hinted that legislation pushing ahead with them could be included in the Queen's Speech next month.

Results of the Home Office's own consultation process released yesterday revealed that 48 per cent of the public opposed the scheme, while 31 per cent were in favour.

Mr Blunkett said yesterday: "Our plans to bring in a national ID card scheme lie at the heart of our work to ensure that the UK can meet the challenges of a changing world. Biometric ID cards will provide a simple and secure means of verifying identity. This is a long-term project and we are determined to get it right."

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