The shadow chancellor, George Osborne, attacked the government on Tuesday following its disclosure of the loss of the details of 25 million child-benefit claimants, and called into question its competence to safeguard data collected for the national ID cards scheme.
"This will be the final blow for the ambitions of the government for the national ID cards scheme — they simply cannot be trusted with people's personal details," Osborne said. "Never mind the lack of vision — get a grip and deliver a basic level of competence."
Two password-protected discs, containing the names, addresses, dates of birth, national insurance numbers and bank and building society account details of everybody in the UK who claims and receives child benefits, were lost in transit from HM Revenue & Customs to the National Audit Office (NAO). The courier was TNT.
"Let us be clear about this catastrophic mistake," continued Osborne. "The names and addresses of every child in the country, and the bank account details of parents, carers, and guardians have been lost. Half the country will be anxious for the safety of their family, and the security of their bank accounts."
Chancellor Alistair Darling denied that this would put paid to the ID cards scheme, however, insisting that, had the compromised data been linked to biometrics, it would have been more secure.
"The key thing with ID cards is that information is protected by personal biometric information," said Darling. "The problem is we do not have that protection [on the lost HMRC information]. ID cards match up biometric information with information held — there would be a biometric lock with the ID cards system."
However, anti-ID cards campaigners have labelled as "idiocy" the chancellor's comments that biometrics would make the database behind the national ID cards scheme secure.
"The chancellor is almost criminally naive in making such claims," said Phil Booth of NO2ID. "The whole disaster shows that the government has virtually no capability to safeguard personal details, yet they claim they can keep confidential details secure. The argument that biometrics will make the National Identity Register secure is a fallacy — the whole point is the accumulation of data to be shared across the public and private sectors. Adding in biometric data as the key is absolute idiocy."
Booth added that, for biometrics to truly safeguard personal data as Darling claimed, it would require every use of a person's data, including transfers between government departments, to be authorised by that person physically providing their fingerprint — a clearly unworkable solution.