Privacy advocates confident about ID card defeat

Campaigners hope that a 'damning' report will blow the controversial ID card scheme out of the water

A leading privacy organisation claims government plans to introduce national ID cards will be defeated thanks to the publication of a new report from the London School of Economics (LSE).

Speaking to ZDNet UK on Tuesday, Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, said his organisation is not actively campaigning against the newly introduced ID Card bill, as it is confident that the LSE report will be enough to put an end to it. "We are putting all our faith in the LSE report — this will lay out all the intellectual and moral foundation for the defensible position on ID cards," he said.

The national ID cards bill was reintroduced in the Queen's speech on Tuesday. The bill was dropped before the General Election after the government ran out of legislative time to push it through the House of Lords.

An interim version of the LSE report, titled The Identity Project, was published in March and criticised the ID card proposal as too risky and lacking the trust of the public. The full version of the report is likely to be even more critical, according to Davies. "The interim report was fairly damning, but the full report will introduce additional controversial elements to the parliament," he said.

The contents of the report are likely to persuade many MPs to vote against the bills, ignoring the parliamentary Whips. "Many MPs are going to see this as a matter of conscience not of party politics," said Davies.

If the bill does get passed by the House of Commons, Privacy International plans a hard-hitting campaign to force parliament to abandon the bill. Davies pointed out that he has been involved in other successful campaigns in the past, such as the campaign against the Australian national ID card in the 1980s, which resulted in the Australian government abandoning its proposal.

If ID cards were introduced it would result in a serious breach of the privacy of UK citizens, according to Davies. "It is the single, most comprehensive, surveillance system that has been devised in Europe's history," he said. "What it will do is limitless."

The plans for a national ID card is not the only proposed legislation that has privacy activists up in arms.

The government's proposed plans for centralising records about children's welfare are "frightening", said Terri Dowty, the policy director for campaign group Action on Rights for Children.

"Some of the information [that could go into centralised social services databases] is very damaging, some is speculative, some is opinion and it would all be on the record," said Dowty. "It could follow a child throughout their life."

Similarly, if the government succeeds in its plans to centralise health care records, sensitive patient information could potentially be accessed many central government employees in Whitehall, said Ross Anderson, the professor of security engineering at University of Cambridge.

"From a patients' point of view, the issue is about whether information that is personally sensitive is available to a physician or to hundreds of thousands of civil servants in Whitehall," he said.

The ID card bill is expected to be introduced into parliament within a week. The second reading of the bill is likely to occur within three weeks, according to Davies. The LSE report on ID cards will be introduced a couple of days before the second reading, as it will take time to update the document to take into account any amendments to the reintroduced bill, he said.