Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with John Denham that in order to get the ID cards bill through both Houses of Parliament, the Government would have to make serious concessions, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Government continued to believe that the arguments for ID cards were very much in their favour. Any notion that we kept changing the argument was false. We had merely been supplementing the argument not changing it. To explain further, the impetus for this had come from the move to biometric passports, that was what was propelling this. The next few years would see a visa and passport revolution across the world. That was driving the technology and the change to biometrics. ID cards would help tackle issues such as identity theft, giving people secure means of protecting their identity, a growing crime which cost the economy £1.3billion per year. They helped tackle illegal immigration and illegal working by helping to strengthen immigration controls. They helped to combat misuse of public services by helping to ensure that only those entitled to use them would be able to do so. They also helped tackle organised crime and terrorism. All of those were reasons why we believed individually ID cards were necessary, collectively they made a very strong case. We would continue to make the case for them.
Asked if it might not make identity theft easier because it would make it a one-stop-shop to steal someone’s identity, the PMOS said that if you have fingerprint and iris identification, then that should make theft all the more difficult. The experts in the field believed that was what would happen with the use of identity cards.
Asked if the Government still believed that ID cards should be completely self-financing, the PMOS said that the basic case hadn’t changed. The Prime Minister had made it clear on Monday that we would not be daft enough to propose something that people could not afford. That was why we had reacted the way we had to the LSE report. Asked what we do in that case if the unit price turned out to be too high, the PMOS said that we would not accept the premise of the question that the unit cost was anywhere near that of the LSE’s predictions. What we had done was propose a unit cost based on the serious work done by the Home Office. Asked if a mandatory ID card, which had to be paid for, would have to be subsidised by taxation, the PMOS said that the current policy hadn’t changed. Put to him that the policy had changed since the Home Secretary has said there would be a cap, the PMOS said that the Parliamentary process would continue and we should let it proceed, but the Prime Minister had said that we were not going to propose something people could not afford.
Asked if the use of an ID card to prevent benefit fraud might be hampered if those on benefit chose not to have ID cards, perhaps because of the expense, the PMOS said that we had given a unit cost, we had not said what the price would be to different groups. All of these were issues which would be considered as we went along.
Asked if the scheme moved from a voluntary to a compulsory scheme would the Government have to reconsider whether there would be any charge at all, the PMOS said that we had already made it clear that before we moved to compulsion there would need to be a vote in Parliament and these issues would be debated as we went along.
Asked if we still considered identity cards to be an important weapon against terrorism, the PMOS said yes. We had never said otherwise, what we had given were additional reasons. Asked if terrorism had declined in importance, the PMOS said no. We had simply put forward additional arguments. That was not to diminish the argument for preventing terrorism. Put to him that terrorism seemed to have slipped down the list of reasons for ID cards, the PMOS said that if people wanted he could read the list the other way round, it didn’t matter, they were all good reasons for having ID cards.
Asked if we might get to a situation where, perhaps in 10 years time, fake biometric ID cards would be commonplace, the PMOS said that clearly security would be central to ID cards, that was the whole reason for having them. The whole point though was that this was not something unique to this country, we anticipated this would become a worldwide phenomenon, not just in the United States or Europe but everywhere. Put to him that the fraudsters would eventually catch up and asked if that undermined the case for ID cards, the PMOS said that we had to always ensure that we kept one step ahead of the technology. The public knew that already, with existing technology, identity fraud was becoming an increasing problem, therefore we believed the public were actually ahead of us in saying that we had to develop new ways of protecting our security. The answer in the face of that was not to put our hands up and say there was nothing we could do about it, but to make sure that we did help the process keep one step ahead. Put to him that an ID card was an internal document and therefore it didn’t matter what people in other countries were doing, the PMOS said that the technology platform helped in the process of making it available as an option and therefore adaptable, but also if you could use ID cards to help tackle organised crime, terrorism, misuse of public services, illegal immigration, illegal working and identity theft then unless you started from the principle, which he acknowledge some people did, that ID cards should never be introduced on principle, then those were pragmatic reasons.
Asked if it was the Government’s view that the safety of this country demanded that we had ID cards, the PMOS said that we had never claimed that ID cards were a magic bullet, in fact we expressly said that we did not regard the issue in that way. Nevertheless it was another important instrument in the fight against terrorism. We had not resiled from that position one iota. Asked why we couldn’t just use the biometric passports as ID if 80% of people carried them, the PMOS said that the other 20% wouldn’t be covered if that were the case.
Asked about the issue of infringement of civil liberties, the PMOS said that there were many forms of identity which were held by many organisations in different ways. The key point was whether you protected the central database. On that we had given our absolute and categorical assurance.
Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news
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