Page last updated at 15:57 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

ID card watchdog promises secure data storage

Meg Hillier's identity card
Identity card: "Ambitious and complicated" says commissioner

The man overseeing the UK's identity cards project has vowed to ensure private information is held securely.

Independent identity commissioner Sir Joseph Pilling said he would be foolish to give it a clean bill of health.

But, in his first annual report, he praised the commitment of staff at the Identity and Passport Service (IPS).

Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne said asking Whitehall to safeguard private information was like putting an alcoholic in charge of the distillery.

'Completely irrelevant'

Critics of the £5bn IPS scheme say it is a waste of money and infringes civil liberties.

But ministers say the ID cards and biometric passports will help prevent identity theft and tackle terrorism.

Sir Joseph said he would not hesitate to write to the home secretary immediately if he became concerned about the National Identity Service (NIS), which the IPS is responsible for.

Even ministers now admit that the biggest use of ID cards will be to help young people buy a drink in a pub
Chris Grayling
Shadow home secretary

He said: "After three months of seeking to understand an ambitious and complicated programme of work, it would be foolish to give it a clean bill of health.

"But I'm pleased with the commitment and dedication to producing a safe and secure ID card programme that the members of IPS have shown."

Home Office minister Meg Hillier said: "I'm pleased the identity commissioner feels the Identity and Passport Service is doing a pretty good job... however we are not complacent."

More than 5,000 ID cards have been issued since last year in the north west of England and to 18 to 24-year-olds in London. The programme will be expanded later this year.

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Mr Huhne said: "Asking Whitehall to safeguard private information is like putting an alcoholic in charge of the distillery.

"Even if officials do not lose personal data as they have done in the past, ID cards are not going to help in the fight against crime, terrorism or illegal working. They should be scrapped immediately."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "Even ministers now admit that the biggest use of ID cards will be to help young people buy a drink in a pub.

"So all of these promises of data protection are completely irrelevant. This is a white elephant scheme that we can't afford and needs to be scrapped."



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