Government plans for digital ID system risk being 'intrusive, insecure and discriminatory', warn civil liberties campaigners

Plan denounced as 'bonkers' by Conservative former cabinet minister

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 02 September 2020 16:48 BST
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Civil liberties campaigners have warned that government plans for an official digital ID system risk being “intrusive, insecure and discriminatory”.

And Conservative former cabinet minister David Davis denounced the plan as "bonkers" warning it would create the kind of databases of private information that would have been welcomed by the Stasi secret police in communist East Germany..

Meanwhile, Labour said that the introduction of an ID system would represent a sharp about-turn for Boris Johnson, who warned in 2004 of the "loss of liberty" involved in the ID card scheme then being put forward by home secretary David Blunkett and swore that he would "physically eat" his card rather than present it for inspection.

Ministers confirmed on Tuesday that they are pressing ahead with a digital identity scheme which they said would enable people to prove who they are in a secure way online.

Following a year-long consolation, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said that the need for a trusted system had been highlighted by coronavirus, which forced millions of people to make transactions online which they would normally carry out face to face.

They promised legislation to enable a single digital ID to be used in the widest possible set of situations, along with new consumer protections to avoid its misuse, but said no physical ID card would be required.

Digital minister Matt Warman said: “This government is committed to increasing online security, delivering personalised services, increasing productivity and boosting the economy. We will work at pace to realise this vision.”

But Mr Davis - who once quit parliament to fight a by-election on civil liberties issues - told Times Radio's John Pienaar: "I think it's bonkers"

"This Tory government that was elected in 2010, the first thing it did was cancel the identity card scheme. And they weren't cancelling it because of the piece of plastic. They were cancelling it because of the huge databases that it applied would exist, within government. The sort of database that would have made the Stasi happy."

Civil rights campaigners Liberty cautioned that any government IT project involving individuals’ personal information gave cause for concern.

“The Government has given us plenty of reasons to be wary of its digital projects,” said the group’s policy and campaigns manager Gracie Bradley.

“Recent months have seen backtracks over the planned contract tracing app and exams algorithm, and only last year the Home Office had to apologise to EU nationals and Windrush citizens in the space of a week for data breaches.

“National digital ID systems tend to rely on creating huge central databases, meaning all of our interactions with the state and public services can be recorded.

“This personal data could then be accessed by a range of government agencies or even private corporations, potentially in combination with other surveillance technologies like facial recognition.

“This digital ID proposal would resurrect the failed and expensive experiment by the Labour government in 2006 when it tried to introduce ID cards.

“The difference is, this version is likely to be even more intrusive, insecure and discriminatory than last time round, while making it harder for some people to access essential services.

“The pandemic has laid bare the many urgent issues in society the government should prioritise – an expensive and unjustified ID scheme that threatens our rights isn’t one of them.”

A spokesman for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that there were “legitimate” concerns about privacy and the party would look at whatever proposals the government brings forward.

But he added: “It is probably worth reminding the prime minister that he wrote in the Daily Telegraph in 2004 that if asked to produce an ID card, he would take the card out of his wallet and physically eat it.

“The question for No 10 is, how do you eat a digital ID card?”

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