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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Ministers duck ID card questions
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff

Anger is mounting at the UK Government's handling of its consultation on national ID cards.

Specimen ID card
ID cards have largely been opposed by the public
Officials have been accused of refusing to say what has happened to thousands of public responses.

Net activists have been left baffled as 6,000 responses, mostly in opposition to the proposed ID scheme, have apparently gone missing.

In a number of statements Home Office ministers have repeatedly claimed that the government received only 2,000 responses to the consultation on whether the UK should introduce compulsory ID cards for citizens.

The 6,000 other responses, gathered online and via the telephone by human rights group Privacy International and net lobby group Stand, have not been mentioned by officials.

Mockery of process

The government knows that 80% of the responses had opposed an ID card, yet it continues to use deceptive and duplicitous tactics to perpetrate the myth that the consultation was a victory for the proposal
Simon Davies, Privacy International
The government held the consultation to gauge public feeling towards a national ID card scheme.

The Home Office has now told the groups that organised the response that the 6,000 individual e-mails and telephone calls are being treated as a single petition.

A formal request to the Home Office by Privacy International to reveal how and why such a large number of responses have been lumped together as one response has been rejected.

"The government's refusal to provide this information makes a mockery of its commitment to open government and it makes a mockery of this consultation," said Simon Davies, head of Privacy International.

"The government knows that 80% of the responses had opposed an ID card, yet it continues to use deceptive and duplicitous tactics to perpetrate the myth that the consultation was a victory for the proposal," he said.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is known to favour the introduction of compulsory ID cards, which are likely contain biometric information and be accompanied by a database of information on citizens.

'Getting silly'

Home Secretary David Blunkett
The Home Secretary favours ID cards
Net lobby groups opposed to the scheme were dismayed by the government's handling of the consultation process and decided to launch their own campaign, asking for views to be submitted online or via the telephone.

At the time the groups received reassurance from the Home Office that these would be treated in the same manner as any other response to the consultation.

Now the government appears to have changed its tack, leaving the campaign groups frustrated.

"We genuinely don't have much of a political axe to grind. We just want to know what happened to the people who commented via our site," said Danny O'Brien, spokesman for Stand.

"This silence is getting a bit silly," he added.

The Home Office said that it will not be responding to Privacy International's request for information because a question on that subject has been tabled by MP Anne McIntosh.

"There is no point going through a time-consuming process when there is a parliamentary question on the issue," a Home Office spokesman told BBC News Online.

But Privacy International is not convinced.

"To reject our request for information in these circumstances is a justifiable as refusing data on the national birth rate because an MP has lodged a question about empty beds in a maternity ward," said Mr Davies.

Open government

We're trying very hard to set up a more direct conversation between the public and the politicians
Danny O'Brien, Stand
The government's handling of the ID card consultation is in stark contrast to another consultation it is running about internet snooping laws.

Plans to implement the Regulation of Investigatory Powers, which will ask internet service providers to retain customer data and give official bodies access to e-mail and internet records, are currently being reviewed by the Home Office.

"The civil servant running it has been active on mailing lists and is very open about the process," said Mr O'Brien.

The government conducts hundreds of consultations on proposed policies and the internet is a perfect tool for gauging public reaction, he argued.

"We're trying very hard to set up a more direct conversation between the public and the politicians," he said.

"One where both sides spend enough time with each other that they're willing to forgive the odd mistake or so and where they see enough of each other that the politicians are no longer terrified of being out of touch," he added.




SEE ALSO:
ID card 'tricks' anger net users
30 May 03  |  Technology
ID card scheme panned by watchdog
13 Feb 03  |  Politics
ID cards 'need to be smart'
12 Feb 03  |  Technology
Doubts over ID card scheme
24 Jan 03  |  Technology


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