Wed, 21 Feb 2007

Id cards - bioinformation open for fishing?

Along with 27,977 other UK residents I signed a petition demanding 'the Prime Minister to scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards'. The petition closed on February 15th and on the 19th we all received a response, by email, from the Prime Minister.

Tony Blair attempts to justify the Government's position by quoting unsubstantiated statistics and anecdotal data (e.g., terrorists use up to 50 multiple identities at a time and a quarter of criminals also use a false identity). Most of the arguments in the letter are not new and have already been debunked by NO2ID. UK Liberty does a good recap of the many issues of this letter.

What did surprise me was this paragraph:
I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.
It would appear from this that all the bioinformation held on the NIR will be wide open for fishing expeditions by the British Police and Police forces from other countries (Europe? USA? others?). This is not something I had understood to be the case and as NO2ID points out, it contradicts what Tony McNulty, then Home Office minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, stated in Standing Committee D on 6 July 2005:
Again, the police, like other public bodies, even though there is that exemption under the DPA, need to substantiate why they would want to go through somebody's record in detail. They are allowed to, but not on a fishing expedition. The form of that is elaborated on later in the Bill—in clauses 19 to 23, I am told, as if by magic. There are safeguards not only against state agencies, for want of a better phrase, going fishing in the database but against misbehaviour and abuse of the database by those who manage the system.
Tony McNulty made an earlier reply in this Standing Committee D that highlights another issue I hadn't grasped:
By the bye, I want to explore one point further, and perhaps return to it later in our deliberations. It might be the one about which the hon. and learned Member for Harborough was getting agitated. It is simply this: the existence of a PNC number for an individual implies a criminal record. If the PNC number is recorded in the public domain in the sense of the verification process, one does not have access to the substance about a criminal record and the offences that a person has committed. In such circumstances, people who perhaps should not could have access to the fact that someone has a PNC number and therefore a record. It does not follow that even if someone captures the PNC number on the verifiable end of the database, it allows them to unlock the door and see what is on a person's record. The existence of the PNC implies that there is a record. I need to consider that in more detail and will come back to the Committee.
That means that all those arrested - including the many innocents - will end up with a PNC number in the NIR that may be communicated during the verification process. Looks like this may become one more long time effect of my arrest.

UPDATE 2007-02-21: The Reg has a good piece as well, which reveals that this email from Tony Blair is a rehash of an opinion piece he wrote last November for the Telegraph piece

UPDATE 2007-02-21: Andy Burnham has since said on 18 April 2006:
The Identity Cards Act ensures that personal reference numbers which would tend to reveal sensitive personal data cannot be held on the register. The PNC number for example, could not be added to the register as this could suggest that the individual had been of interest to the police, or that the individual had a criminal record.

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