Setback for identity card plan as MPs and peers point out the risk to human rights

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PROPOSALS FOR ID cards which lie at the heart of Tony Blair's pre-election programme were dealt a devastating blow yesterday as senior MPs and peers declared they risked infringing human rights.

Plans for compulsory biometric ID cards and a national identity database could breach the right to privacy and protection against discrimination enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, a powerful committee of MPs and peers said. A report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which checks that all law complies with the convention, warned that the legislation contained a string of potential breaches.

Human rights campaigners and MPs condemned ID cards for heralding a "surveillance society" and said yesterday's report struck at the core of the Government's plans. But Downing Street insisted planned ID cards would not violate international human rights law. It warned that doubts had been raised about the use of cards in preventing terrorism or crime, one of the key justifications for ID cards in human rights law.

Wide-ranging powers to hold information without consent, make cards compulsory for people applying for passports and allow organisations inside and outside government to access information about people all raised serious questions, the committee said.

In a letter to Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, the committee demanded answers to 14 questions about the impact of the ID Card Bill on human rights. Their 30-page report was published before members of the committee question Mr Clarke about his proposals next week, with the ID Cards Bill going through the Commons.

The report rejected claims by ministers that ID cards would initially be voluntary, saying people would be forced to join a national identify database if it was linked to passport or driving licence applications.

The committee also raised questions about information to be held on ID cards, which could include previous addresses, immigration history and details of previous requests to access information by police, prospective employers or other bodies. The report warned that the Bill was "potentially highly intrusive of private life", raising the prospect of any organisation asking people to produce an ID card or agree to an identity check before dealing with them.

The committee expressed concern at the lack of safeguards in the legislation and attacked the former home secretary David Blunkett, condemning as "deeply unsatisfactory" his failure to explain how the Bill conformed with human rights law.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the pressure group Liberty, said the report was a "road map" for future legal challenges to ID cards. She said: "This is very damaging to the Bill. These criticisms go to the heart of the whole ID card policy. They are serious questions of infringement of privacy and the right to freedom from discrimination."

A Law Society spokesman said yesterday: "The Law Society does not believe adopting an identity card scheme is a proportionate response to the challenges the Government is trying to address."

MPs warned that the Bill would run into further opposition in the Commons and Lords.