Information Commissioner concerned about ID scheme

The Information Commissioner says that the identity card scheme planned by the Home Office could breach data protection legislation unless it is carefully controlled. Commissioner Richard Thomas makes the warning in his Office's annual report.

"The creation of a National Identity Register means that the scheme amounts to much more than issuing a simple identity card. Of particular concern is the extent of information to be held by government and how this will be used in practice," says the report. "There is a danger of function creep, whereby information is used for purposes far beyond that for which it was collected."

The ID card scheme has been plunged into controversy by leaked emails detailing failings in the project, and Thomas's concerns will add to the growing sense of crisis around the plan. At the heart of Thomas's concerns are the proposals to use the ID card database for purely administrative purposes.

The ID card legislation allowed for the use of the ID card database for public administration tasks, as recommended by the now-closed Citizens Information Project within the Home Office. This is what is causing the Commissioner concern.

"The government has already signalled its intention to develop the National Identity Register as an adult population database. Our concerns were echoed by parliamentarians, and others, over the course of the legislative process and we welcome the limited changes that were made," says the annual report. "However, we will be working to make sure that the ID card scheme takes account of data protection concerns as it is implemented."

Though the ID card was conceived as a security measure, the Commissioner's concerns are with the civil and administrative functions that have been introduced to the scheme. "The data trail created by everyday use of the card has the potential to create a detailed picture of how individuals live their lives," says the report. "Our priority is to ensure that the Identity Cards Act 2006 is implemented in a manner consistent with the Data Protection Act 1998 and achieves good practice in information management."

This is not the first time the Commissioner has expressed concerns with the ID Card scheme. Two years ago, in an interview with The Times, he warned that the country could be "sleepwalking into a surveillance society".

The Commissioner also reported on the progress of the first year of the Freedom of Information Act. He said that some public bodies have become used to providing information more quickly than others, and that local government was more complained about than central government. He also outlined a tougher approach to complaints about public bodies withholding information.

"We will be taking an increasingly tough line with public authorities where necessary. For example, we are now more ready to use Information Notices," said the report. "We will not allow public authorities to engage in unnecessarily lengthy correspondence or to raise irrelevant or peripheral issues which (if at all) should have been addressed at the Refusal Notice or internal review stages."