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Responding to Tony Blair’s email: The information in the national identity register

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:12 am on 24 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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In his recent email to those who signed this petition against the government’s identity card scheme, Tony Blair said that the National Identity Register (i.e. the database that forms the core of the identity card scheme) will:

…contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card…

I have several points to make in response to this:

  • Store cards are voluntary, where registering on the national identity register will eventually be compulsory under the government’s plans. Indeed starting in April 2007, some first time applicants for passports will be required to register, and eventually (in 2009 according to current plans) all applicants for passports will be required to register, before finally extending the scheme to all permanent residents of Britain.

    It is disingenuous to compare an entirely voluntary scheme, with one that passport applicants, and eventually all permanent residents, will be legally required to sign up to, and provide data for.

  • The retail company that issues a store card cannot legally share store card data with other parties without the customer’s consent, and the retailer will only get information about that customer’s shopping habits at their stores (or perhaps any allied stores that allow their card to be used).

    E.g. the Tesco store card won’t record purchases made with other store cards, credit cards or with cash - you are thus in complete control over how much you let Tesco know about your shopping habits, being able to choose whether to have a card, whether to use Tesco at all, and whether to use the card for any particular purchase.

    However, the information on the National Identity Register can legally be shared with the police, security services and public bodies without your consent. Indeed some of the data, including your fingerprints and National Identity Registration Number (NIRN), will be shared with anyone who checks your identity in order to carry out the ID check. The NIRN will also enable entries in the NIR to be cross referenced with other databases held by public authorities and government departments.

    Note that there are also moves afoot to enable general sharing of personal data across government departments when it is deemed by the government to be “in the public interest”.

    Finally, Blair’s email itself implies some sharing of NIR data with other governments:

    Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

  • The Store Card will not store the following information that will be in the NIR (see Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 for the complete list of information):
    • Every address you’ve ever lived at.
    • Every name you’ve ever been known by.
    • Every immigration status you’ve ever held.
    • Your fingerprints.
    • The number of every official identity document issued to you, such as driving licences, passports, visas, etc.
    • The details of every occasion on which your identity is checked, and thus a record of, for example, each time you register with a doctor/clinic, sign up for benefits, enroll your kids in a state school, open a bank account, apply for a credit card or take out a mortgage (to provide a selection of the situations where the government envisage you needing to provide your identity card to access a service).

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