Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Sunday, 8 June 2008 11:17 UK

ID cards 'could threaten privacy'

Woman holding ID card
The National Identity Scheme will hold data on everyone over 16 in Britain

The government should limit the data it collects on citizens for its ID card scheme to avoid creating a surveillance society, a group of MPs has warned.

The home affairs select committee called for proper safeguards on the plans for compulsory ID cards to stop "function creep" threatening privacy.

It wants a guarantee the scheme will not be expanded without MPs' approval.

The Ministry of Justice said it had to balance protecting the public with protecting a right to privacy.

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that many people welcomed the use of devices such as CCTV cameras.

"I know that when as it was then, the Labour-controlled council in my constituency, funded CCTV cameras in the town centre to help to protect people when they wanted to go out and have a night out without being blighted by anti-social behaviour, people supported it.

"So I know for example with the DNA database that tens of thousands of crimes have been solved because of the use of the DNA database."


The National Identity Scheme is due to start rolling out later this year, and will eventually hold details on everyone in Britain over the age of 16.

The select committee said in a report: "It should collect only what is essential, to be stored only for as long as is necessary.

"We are concerned... about the potential for 'function creep' in terms of the surveillance potential of the national identity scheme.

"Any ambiguity about the objectives of the scheme puts in jeopardy the public's trust in the scheme itself and in the government's ability to run it."

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee on the misuse of data

The committee said it accepted the government's assurance that the scheme would not be used as a surveillance tool.

However, "we seek the further assurance that any initiative to broaden the scope of the scheme will only be proposed after consulting the information commissioner and on the basis that proposals will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in draft form," it said.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said there could be "potentially disastrous consequences" if data was mishandled.

ID cards are not a problem in my opinion. The main problem is the Government spying on people who haven't done anything.
FJ, Gloucestershire

Therefore, he said, the government should draw up a "broad outline of contingency plans" to deal with potential security breaches in the ID cards programme.

The report referred to the loss of two discs containing the personal details of 25m people last year.

"The minister's assurances that the government has learned lessons, though welcome, are not sufficient to reassure us or, we suspect, the public," it said.

The report also urged the government to set up new controls on the National DNA Database to prevent "unnecessary invasions of privacy".

It said the system should be changed to make it easier for people whose DNA is on the system to challenge its retention.

'Public trust'

Mr Vaz said: "What we are calling for is an overall principle of 'least data, for least time'.

"The public don't have much choice over the data held on them by public bodies so they must be confident about how it is being collected, stored and used, otherwise we are in danger of becoming a surveillance society."

The government takes the protection of personal data extremely seriously
Ministry of Justice spokesman

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said he welcomed the report.

"It is essential that positive action is taken to ensure the potential risks of a surveillance society never manifest themselves in this country," Mr Thomas said.

"Every possible step must be taken to ensure public trust in the way that personal information is collected and stored."

The report also called for a public consultation on the powers of public bodies, such as councils, to use surveillance powers.

In April, there was widespread criticism when it emerged that Poole Borough Council had carried out surveillance on a family accused of cheating the school catchment system.

The chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, said he understood there were concerns over the use of surveillance.

2008 - Some non-EU nationals will have to get them
2009 - Compulsory for 200,000 UK citizens and EU nationals who work in 'sensitive' airport jobs
2010 - Voluntary scheme for students
2011/12 - Biometric passports issued, applicants can choose to get ID card
2017 - Full roll-out of identity cards
"We are working with the government, police chiefs and the surveillance commissioners to clarify some of the details of the legislation and make sure it is clear when and how surveillance should be used," Sir Simon said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The government takes the protection of personal data extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring that information is shared in a safe and secure way.

"It is necessary to find a balance between protecting the public and protecting a right to privacy.

"Data sharing is not only essential to delivering public service but also has an important role to play in tackling potential criminal activities."

The government said it would respond fully to the report in due course.

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