UK Chief Answers ID Card Questions

Citizens question privacy, security of information and biometrics in live chat

by / November 14, 2006
In a web chat today, Chief Executive of the UK Identity and Passport Service James Hall answered concerned British citizens' questions about the impending National Identity Scheme and Registry. Most people were concerned about protecting identity and access to personal information; others voiced their disagreement with the scheme itself.

The UK identity cards will hold 50 categories of biometric information which will be stored in the registry. When asked how the Identity and Passport Service (ISP) was planning to keep the information secure, Hall explained that the registry will "be security accredited to the highest standard," and "around this database we will have very tight controls to ensure that those able to access information have been security vetted." Hall approximated that 3,000 people would have access to the database at the ISP; this does not, however, include the various government, police and emergency personnel who would also have access.

As part of the Scheme, chips with personal information will be on each card. The details of exactly what information will be stored on cards verses the database are still in the works, but Hall pointed out that "only some parts of the information will be stored on the card itself. The full set of information will only be stored on the Register itself." At least some biometric data will be on the cards, such as a facial image, just like the UK's e-passports.

The scheme is met with reservation by many UK citizens. Many claim that instead of increasing security, it violates privacy. One participant asked Hall to provide his personal information, supplying a list of questions much like the questions the citizens will be expected to answer for the database. Hall said he does not think the ID cards will threaten privacy.

Others believe that the system is just another step towards a surveillance society. "It seems to me debatable that we are actually entering a surveillance society," Hall responded. "Maybe we should start arguing the case that ID Cards will reduce the threat of the surveillance society and help safeguard civil liberties."

With the UK's problematic technology implementation record, the lack of extensive biometric usability trials, and the fact that the timetable for ID card roll out has been pushed back to 2009 according Prime Minister Tony Blair, the citizens still have mixed feelings on the security of their personal information.

Gina M. Scott Writer