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Chris Mole: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fundamental assumption that underlies the errors in people's conclusions about this is that there is two-way traffic? From the majority of verification points, people do not have access to the data in the central database. They are able only to submit data about the individual concerned to the central database and get back a yes or no confirmation as regards their identity. It is wrong to conclude that those access points create weakness in the security of the system.
Mr. Denham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. To listen to some speakers, one would think that the national identity register will run live, rather like national rail inquiries on the internet, so that one can go in and access information. That is not how it will operate. There will not be lots of live access points with people interacting with the system and being able, for example, to get viruses into it.
It would be possible to say, "For the elimination of all doubt, let's not do this." That leads to the conclusion that it would be better not to have a Revenue and Customs computer or any other type of computerised system that could allow for hacking and destruction. The gains of this system, to our society and to individuals, vastly outweigh the risks that can be identified.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
Is it not an heroic act of faith to suggest that few, if any, weaknesses can be attributed to the likely design of the system? The history of IT systems in the past 20 to 30 years is one of determined and ingenious individuals
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circumventing and overcoming such low obstacles as might prevent their being hacked into. That will not give much reassurance to potential Winston Smiths.
Mr. Denham: I am one of thoseI am sure that there are many others in this Housewho carries out most of his banking transactions on the internet. The risks to individuals and society of having any type of internet exchange of financial information are vastly greater than anything to do with a national identity register, yet we have not banned internet banking. The vast majority of problems have arisen from individuals volunteering their own information to fraudsters. The existence of a huge variety of very sensitive internet applications that are used with great confidence across the world, day in, day out, should give us the confidence to believe that this important project can be delivered and will work.
Mr. Carmichael: I begin by picking up a point that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) made. I hope that I do not misrepresent him when I say that I understood him to argue that all the information exists on various Government databases and it is therefore not objectionable to bring it together, and that exceptional access to it would be allowed only for the prevention and detection of crime. If I have misrepresented him, he can intervenehe does not wish to do that, so I presume that I have not.
I have never been one to allow the facts to get in the way of a good rant, but when I listened to the right hon. Gentleman I had occasion to examine the terms of the Bill. Clause 1(3) sets out the statutory purposes for the maintenance of the national identity register, including:
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman is not distinguishing between the elements of the Bill that allow access to audit trails without the individual's permissioncrime fightingand other aspects, under which individuals can use their identity cards, for example, to identify themselves to use a public service. It is dangerous to run the two elements together as though they are the same.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) made a
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comparison with internet banking. That is entered into on a voluntary basis, with a voluntary acceptance of potential risk. Registration will not be done on a voluntary basis and the acceptance of risk, which could be dramatic, is not voluntary.
Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, to which I cannot add. Given the constraints of time, I do not intend even to try. However, he brings me neatly to my first substantive point, which deals with compulsion.
"We seek to replace compulsion by voluntarism. Citizens should not be forced to have ID cards. Compulsion is far too often resorted to by the modern state. That comes from an intensely managerial culture in which regulation rules. That sits uneasily with fundamental rights such as privacy and voluntarism. This Bill is an authentic clash between such rights and managerial efficiency."[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 January 2006; Vol. 677, c. 957.]
The Home Secretary has already accepted today that the process of designating documents, especially passports, brings with it an element of compulsion. That is why the Government want to include the word "must" in the Bill, while we believe that it should be "may". I do not understand how the Government can square that circle or perceive their comments today as anything other than a blatant breach of their manifesto commitment.
Approximately 85 per cent. of the population hold passports. If we are to link the identity register and identity cards with the renewal of passports, when we pass the second Billwhich we shall eventually be allowed to discussthere will be, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) said, an irresistible momentum behind compulsion. The argument will be presented that we already hold the information and that it would therefore be such a waste if we did not move to compulsion. The designated documents mean compulsion by the back door.
I am worried by the way the Government have tried to conflate the sensible case for biometrics for passportswhen we debated the matter in Committee, we stressed that we did not object to thatand the use of biometrics for identity cards. There are several important distinctions to be drawn. First, passports will hold considerably fewer biometrics than are proposed for identity cards. Passports will not be subject to the same footprint through the database that is to be attached to the national identity register. A much wider range of information will be held under schedule 1 on the identity register than that held in relation to a passport.
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"other names by which he is or has been known . . . date of birth . . . place of birth . . . gender . . . the address of his principal place of residence in the United Kingdom . . . the address of every other place in the United Kingdom where he has a place of residence."
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