Reply from the Home Office

I've had a reply to the letter which I sent to the Home Office regarding ID cards (the concerns expressed seem to pail in the light of internment proposals! Still, it shows the principle of giving an inch....)

The reply is signed by a civil servant, so the name is removed.

Any comments? (Please let me know of any obvious OCR errors in the comments). The No2ID site is here.

The letter reads as follows:

Thank you for your letter of 29 January to Des Browne MP about identity cards. Your letter has been passed to me in the Identity Cards Programme Team to respond.

As you may be aware that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has established standards in the use of biometrics in passports. From next Autumn, British tourists who need a new passport will have to get a biometric one to visit the US or obtain a visa in advance and have their biometrics recorded on arrival. The European Union has also recently considered Regulations on common standards for biometric security features to be included in common format visas and residence permits for foreign, i.e. nonEU, nationals. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) establishes standards in the use of biometrics in passports and the UK is committed to compliance with these standards. On 13 December 2004 the EU adopted a Regulation on biometric features (digital image and two flat fingerprints) in the EU common format passport

The decision to introduce biometrics into existing identity documents has therefore already been made. What we gain with the ID card and the added requirements for these, over and above just adding biometrics to existing documents, are the benefits of secure identification and a register to hold the information.

It is envisaged an identity card will help UK residents establish their identity and entitlement to services in a simple, easy, convenient way and to regulate access to public services to reduce fraudulent use of services by those not entitled and in time to deliver more efficient access to services.

However, I must emphasise that we have never said that the identity cards scheme is intended to be the sole solution to identity fraud, illegal immigration and working, or terrorism. The scheme is therefore not being designed to be the primary method of combating these problems. Nevertheless, the Security services and Sir John Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, have stated that they believe an identity card scheme will help in the fight against these problems. The Spanish police have also stated that their identity cards scheme makes life harder for terrorists and easier for the police. Terrorists have had to find other ways to carry out their activities such as staying in hotels, renting accommodation, hiring cars and purchasing mobile phones. The culture of identity cards in Spain has marginalised terrorists who are driven to reside outside Spain. Identity cards have also meant that the police have a better idea of who they are looking for when tracking down a terrorist as they will have information available such as a photograph, age, fingerprint and addresses and can focus their investigations faster.

With regards to the checking process, applicants will also be asked to produce their current identity documentation, which will be checked for authenticity and validity. This is to ensure that individuals are who they say they are. The precise arrangements for what information will be necessary for making an application vOll be decided as the identity cards programme progresses following further preparatory work and testing of different options.

It may also be necessary to make changes to the application process over time. These arrangements are therefore not spelt out on the face of the Identity Cards Bill. Rather provision is included for the detailed arrangements to be set out in Regulations. These arrangements must be scrutinised by Parliament and no information may be required unless it is required for the statutory purposes of the scheme as set out in the primary legislation.

ID Cards will be issued by an executive agency incorporating the functions of the United Kingdom Passport Service which will work closely in conjunction with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office in respect Of foreign nationals.

With regards to cost, our assessments to date have indicated that the benefits outweigh the costs of the scheme.

The fact is that we are having to incorporate certain biometric identifiers into existing identity documentation. What the identity cards scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK. These include reducing unauthorised access to benefits and public services, reducing illegal immigration and working and tackling organised crime and terrorism.

There are considerable benefits to individuals from the introduction of identity cards and the principle will be that overall costs of the scheme will be met from charging. This principle is well established for documents like passports and residence permits, which as we have pointed out will have to be upgraded anyway. We have made clear that ID cards will be subsidised for those least able to pay.

However, no date has yet been set for a decision on a move to compulsion. There are a number of factors which the Government will need to consider before recommending a move to compulsion to Parliament. These are explained in Identity Cards: The Next Steps (CM 6020).

The exact format of ID cards will be set out in Regulations to be approved by Parliament. It is likely that all ID cards will be credit card sized plastic cards with a photograph of the holder, and containing a secure chip where biometric data may be stored. They will be designed to be convenient and easy to carry in a purse or wallet.

As mentioned earlier, the identity cards scheme is an inclusive scheme intended to cover everyone in the UK for longer than 3 months. Nothing in the legislation is discriminatory and we are working now with interested groups in the early stages of the design of the scheme to make sure that it operates in a way that is not discriminatory.

A card scheme that is open to everyone and treats everyone on an equal basis, alongside rules on the production of cardslidentity checks that are consistent and do not single out particular groups will help to reduce discrimination as everyone will have an equal means of proving of identity when using public services.

The administration of the scheme is covered by the Race Relations Act 1976, as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. Therefore, the scheme must have due regard to the elimination of unlawful racial discrimination, the promotion of equal opportunities and good relations between people from different racial groups. We have taken advice from relevant sections within the Home Office as well as outside consultation, involved CRE as well as a number of other race organisations, individual in the community, focus group and minority ethnic polling.

Research done with the minority ethnic groups in 2004 showed the majority of all four ethnic populations were in favour of the proposal to introduce ID cards in the UK, with the Chinese group being the most favourable (84%) and the black group the least (60%). Favourability towards ID cards has increased since the study was last conducted in 2003.

Clause 14 of the Bill enables checks to be made on the Register with the consent of the individual in order to provide an identity verification service. This clause limits the information that may be provided to the organisation as part of this check, this includes information within paragraphs 1, 3 and 4 of Schedule 1, the photograph, signature, information concerning whether the ID card is valid, voluntary information and security questions. This limitation on 'the information that may be checked means that information failing in other parts of Schedule 1, for example the records of provision of information, may not be provided to organisations verifying identity. This type of information isalready provided with the consent of individuals to a wide variety of organisations on a daily basis.

In addition, the identity cards agency will be accrediting user organisations based on the type of information they are requesting provision of, as well as a justification of why they are requesting it. We will also reserve the right to audit any user organisation processes to ensure they remain compliant with the ultimate sanction for those who are misusing information being the removal of accreditation.

The statutory purposes of the Register as defined in the Bill set boundaries for its use to prevent function creep. The "registrable facts" listed in the Bill set limits on the types of information which may be held on the Register. Only Parliament would be able to change the statutory purposes of the scheme or the information which could be held by the scheme.

Clause 1(2) of the Identity Cards Bill sets out the statutory purpose of the Register. It makes clear that the register is to provide a record of "registrable facts" about the identity of individuals who are resident in the United Kingdom or have applied to be entered on the register. The Schedule in the Bill lists the categories of information that may be held on the Register, although not every item listed need be included when the National Identity Register is established. The Schedule includes the following information:

  • personal information - names, date and place of birth, gender, addresses;
  • identifying information - photograph, signature, fingerprint, other biometric information;
  • residential status - nationality, entitlement to remain, terms and conditions of that entitlement;
  • personal reference numbers - for example the National Identity Registration Number and other government issued numbers, and validity periods of related documents;
  • record history - information previously recorded, audit trail of changes and date of death;
  • registration and lD card history - dates of: application, changes to information, confirmation; information regarding: other ID cards already issued, details of counter-signatures, notification under clause 13(1) and requirements to surrender an ID card;
  • validation information - information provided for any application, modification, confirmation or issue; other steps taken in connection with an application or otherwise for identifying the applicant and verifying the information; particulars of any other steps for ensuring there is an accurate entry in the Register; and particulars of notification of changes;
  • security information - personal identification numbers, password or other codes, and questions and answers that could be used to identify a person seeking provisions of information or the modification of an entry; and
  • records of provision of information - how and when any information from an entry was provided to any person or body.

However, there is absolutely no question of an identity card holding sensitive personal information such as medical records, racial or ethnic origin, political opinions or religious or other beliefs.

The Identity Cards Bill is available on the Parliament website:

Link to the Bill

or if you would like to obtain a hard copy of The Bill, this would cost £6, however you will have to write to:

Her Majesty's Stationery Office
St Clements House
2-16 Colegate
Norwich
NR3 1 BQ

More information about identity cards is also available on

Link to the site mentioned.

I am grateful for the time you have taken to comment further on this issue.

Yours sincerely

(name removed)
Identity Cards Programme Team