» Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ID Cards

Asked if the Prime Minister had any words for those who might be inclined to oppose ID cards, the PMOS said that the longer this debate had gone the more people seemed to be seeing the relevance of ID cards. What we were seeing was identity theft becoming a much more salient issue which people were becoming concerned about in their every day life. It was a growing crime which costs the economy at least £1.3 billion per year. Criminals were recognising that identities were just as valuable as possessions. There was also the sheer inconvenience factor of having to spend up to 60 hours restoring your records of your identity was stolen. It would also help to strengthen immigration controls, combat illegal working, countering the mis-use of public services, and also the organised crime and terrorism aspect as well. What this was about, the Prime Minister believed, was getting a step ahead of criminals and terrorists. It was important to recognise that 80% of us have passports already and because of the changing technical requirements of the US and the EU and move to biometric passports, we were going to have to go down that road anyway. The extra cost of including the ID element was well worth it because of what it did in terms of delivering extra assurance and extra security for people in all senses.

Asked if this would be perceived as a conscience vote in the Commons because of the civil liberties aspect, the PMOS said that we believed that because we were setting up secure registers and so on, we addressed those issues. Like any other crime, there was always a balance between what people were worried about in terms of civil liberties but also the basic civil liberty of having your identity secure and not vulnerable to being stolen. We had to address that aspect as well The annual cost of organised crime was estimated at £20 billion. ID cards were not a solution to all aspects of organised crime but they were one of the ways we could keep a step ahead of criminals.

Asked to explain how the technology would actually stop identity theft, the PMOS said that if we got to the stage where we had identity cards which had both iris recognition and fingerprints that makes your identity much more secure than it was at present. What made it possible to move down this road was the technology. That was what was driving the change on the passport front from other countries. What allowed us to get a step ahead of the criminals was if we implemented the passport changes with the ID cards simultaneously.

Put to him that the system couldn’t work unless it was compulsory for everyone to carry ID cards, the PMOS said we had said out that Parliament would have to revisit the issue, re-debate the issue and vote on the issue again if we were to go down that road. Part of that debate would obviously be how successfully the scheme had worked and so on. That gave a chance for Parliament to re-visit the issue. In terms of safe-guarding individuals identity, then compulsion was only one part of that. In terms of protecting your identity when going to the ATM or whatever, ID cards could help do that a lot better, even without compulsion. The provision for compulsion was there in the legislation if it was addressed by Parliament.

Asked if businesses would be allowed to access the national register in order to check people’s identity and would have the technology to do so, the PMOS said that it would all depend on how the technology developed and whether other organisations chose to go down this road. In the end it would be up to individuals and companies. Put to him that if it was expected that all companies would have identity verification machines, perhaps on every till, then that would surely increase the cost of the scheme exponentially, the PMOS said he thought we were going down a hypothetical road. What was important was that people recognised that technology was advancing all the time. Because of the increased concern over fraud, identity theft and so on, people would be demanding more and more secure ways of protecting their identity. The technology gave you a better means to protect your identity in a world in which people were increasingly using technology as a means of making their life easier. We took the benefit of new technology and increasingly recognising the dangers which went along with that. ID cards were one way of beginning the process of addressing those dangers.

Asked for one example of how identity cards would help prevent identity theft, the PMOS said that for instance with the basic passport, at the moment that could be stolen. Even when we introduced the first generation of biometric passports, they could still be duplicated and an individual could have multiple passports. Once you got to the second generation which was iris and fingerprint combined that would be impossible. Again the technology was there and was capable of helping to protect your identity. Put to him that didn’t affect the commercial side of identity theft, the PMOS said no, it didn’t. The commercial side was a matter which had to be solved further down the line, but would only be with people’s consent. The national register of information would be protected and people had that assurance. The Home Office had issued a very useful briefing pack which went into all of this, the PMOS urged all journalists to read it. Put to him that there seemed to be a confusion between the concerns that people on the street had about theft of their credit cards and so forth and the reasons the Government gave which didn’t seem to relate to that, the PMOS said that ID cards gave people a secure means to identify themselves to other organisations, a secure means of making sure that people did not steal that. Equally in terms of use of public services, it would mean that there was a better to way to ensure that public services were only used by those entitled to use them. This improved the efficiency and effectiveness therefore of how we could deliver services. At the minute the costs of benefit fraud were obvious. This was a way of dealing with those kinds of issues/ Questioned further the PMOS said that there was a serious problem of people who did use false identities for claiming benefits. Identity related benefit fraud at the moment was estimated to cost £50 million per year.

Put to him that at some point in the future, compulsion would be necessary and we would end up with people being fined or even imprisoned for not carrying identity, the PMOS said that the issue of compulsion had been specifically dealt with in the legislation. Before compulsion the issue would come back to Parliament and would come back to Parliament at a time when people could see how the technology had worked, could see what the take up was and could see how the relationships with other organisations and so on were working. It would not at that stage be a theoretical issue, but a practical issue which people would actually have experience to base their judgments on.

Asked who would pay for the ID cards, the PMOS said that it was estimated that 70% of the costs of an ID card would be from the passport cost.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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