ID Cards: A reply from the Home Office

I've had a reply from the Home Office on the subject of ID Cards, via my MP (who apparently just forwarded letters). This is not a reply to the letter sent to David Davies, the Shadow Home Secretary, but a reply to the letter sent to my MP.

Of course, the sheer fact that I've written to these people means that my opinion can be safely discounted - there is something rather Orwellian about that way of doing business, I find.

Des Browne MP

Nick Hawkins Esq MP
House of Commons

Our Reference: XXXXX

Your Reference: YYYYY

2nd Nov 2004

Dear Nick

Thank you for your Letter of 14 October to David Blunkett on behalf of your constituent Mr XXXX of YYYY about identity cards. Your letter has been passed to me for reply as the Minister with responsibility for identity cards.

I should explain at the outset that the Government's decision to proceed with the introduction of a national identity cards scheme is based in part on the fact that we will have to introduce more secure personal identifiers (biometrics) into our passports and other existing documents in line with international requirements. Right across the world there is a drive to increase document security with biometrics. If our citizens are to continue to enjoy the benefits of international travel, as increasing numbers of them are doing we cannot be left behind. It is worth remembering that 21 of the 25 EU Member States (all apart from the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Latvia) have identity cards.

Identity cards will be linked to existing documents such as passports and will incorporate a biometric such as a fingerprint or iris scan. The introduction of identity cards on a phased basis will on current plans start from 2007-2008.

The necessary decision to introduce biometrics into existing identity documents has therefore already been made. Even without an identity cards scheme, the majority of the population would require to be enrolled in a biometric database via existing identity documents like passports anyway. The costs involved in this would be nearly the same as implementing a comprehensive identity cards scheme available to the whole resident population, but without the added benefits.

People's identities are incredibly valuable and too easily stolen - ID fraud is a growing crime, costing the country more than £1.3 billion per year. Multiple or false identities are used in more than a third of terrorist related activity, and in organised crime and money laundering. Lack of clarity over someone's identity also presents risks to the public and private sectors when providing services. It is crucial we are able to confirm and verify our own and others' identities quickly and easily. (Consequently, we believe that there are further clear benefits to be gained from biometric identity cards.)

The Government's proposals are designed to safeguard, not erode, civil liberties by protecting people's true identity against fraud and by enabling them to prove their identity more easily when accessing public or private services.

So what we gain with the ID card, over and above just adding biometrics to existing documents, are the benefits flowing from secure identification and a register to hold the information, such as in tackling illegal working and fraudulent access to public services. Added to this, offering an ID card at a reduced cost for those on low incomes and the elderly will give the least well off the same means of proving their identity as those who can afford to travel abroad.

We are grateful for the time Mr XXXX has taken to comment.

Des Browne

I disagree, but it's tricky to know how to respond - and do so in a way that appears constructive and not the ravings of a lunatic. Any ideas? Even if the thing is benign now, how can the minister guarantee that all future governments are benign? However to ask this question is to be seen as a conspiracy theorist and dismissed out of hand, lessons of history be damned.