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What’s going on with Britain’s National Identity Scheme?

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:23 pm on 25 January, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Recently there have been a number of headlines related to Britain’s National Identity Scheme, apparently due to the Tories obtaining leaked Home Office documents relating to the scheme. The headlines concerned have suggested both delays, the possibility of the scheme being shelved and possible extensions to the scheme. Below are some examples:

So what is going on? Has the scheme been delayed? Has it been extended? Will it be shelved?

To answer these questions one has to start with what what the plan was prior to the leaking of these documents. The plan, prior to these leaks, was as follows:

  • ID cards would initially be issued to foreign nationals starting in 2008, and to British citizens from 2009 onwards when they apply for/renew passports. Eventually ID cards would be made compulsory and issued without needing to apply for a passport. All this is explained at the Identity and Passport Service website.
  • An “opt out” allowing people to opt out of getting the card when applying for the passport was secured during the passage of the bill through Parliament. However personal details would still be stored on the National Identity Register and the opt out would last only until the cards were made compulsory in 2010 (see this Home Office press release for details).

Note however that compulsion requires new legislation and thus the possibility of this time-table slipping was always there. The 2010 deadline is not part of any existing legislation.

The recent reports have made the following claims regarding the scheme:

  • The issuing of ID cards to British citizens will be delayed until 2012. For example, a report in the Telegraph states:

    Amid growing doubts that the multibillion pound scheme will ever see the light of day, a confidential Home Office report suggests that the widespread introduction of cards for British nationals will not come until 2012 at the earliest.

    That is two years later than the Government has previously stated.

  • Students will be required to register on the NIR and get a card from 2010, in order to get loans and bank accounts. For example, this Guardian article states:

    Students will be “blackmailed” into holding identity cards in order to apply for student loans, the Tories have warned.

    According to Home Office documents leaked to the Conservative party last night, those applying for student loans will be forced to hold identity cards to get the funding from 2010.

    Anyone aged 16 or over will be expected to obtain a card - costing up to £100 - to open a bank account or apply for a student loan.

  • Those applying for driving licences will have their details put on the NIR. The Telegraph article linked to above states:

    The Government has said it plans to make ID cards compulsory, but only after a “voluntary” period during which anyone who renews a passport or driving licence will be automatically issued with a card.

  • Those employed in “sensitive” positions or positions of trust (e.g. teachers, doctors, civil servants) will have to register and card a card from 2009, e.g. according to the same Telegraph article:

    The leaked Home Office document makes clear that some British nationals like teachers and care workers could get cards as soon as next year.

    An ID card could be made a requirement for holding a job in a “position of trust” such as teaching or social care from 2009.

    It says: “Our first priority should be to issue cards to those who are employed in positions of trust where identity assurance is critical to determining their appropriateness for that employment.”

Assuming these reports accurately portray a change in the plans, it appears that instead of the issuing of ID cards to passport applicants starting in 2009, extending to all applicants in 2010 with compulsory cards for all a few years later, we now have a plan involving:

  • Issuing of cards to British citizens starting in 2009/2010 with students and people in positions of “trust”.
  • The issuing of cards to passport applicants from 2012 onwards and possibly also to those applying for driving licences.
  • Compulsion some years later.

Thus the issuing of cards to passport applicants has been delayed, along with compulsion, but in the meantime the government will try and get students and certain professions registered instead, whilst adding applicants for driving licences from 2012 when passport applicants are now also required to get a card. Thus the scheme appears set merely to creep along at a slightly slower pace than before.

Of course all this assumes the government elected in 2009 or 2010 will continue the scheme.

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