ID cards go up in flames in first step to tackle 'database state'

By Nigel Morris,Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 10 February 2011 01:00

Identity cards will be consigned to history today as the database recording the biometric details of thousands of people goes up in flames. Hard disk drives from the national identity register, which underpinned the ID card scheme, will be shredded and incinerated in a symbolic demonstration of efforts to rein back the "database state" and restore civil liberties.

It will be followed by measures to take innocent people off the national DNA database, introduce controls against the proliferation of CCTV cameras and cut councils' use of covert surveillance of residents. Mandatory criminal record checks on millions of employees will be eased and wheel-clamping of cars on private land banned.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, will hail the moves as evidence of the Liberal Democrats' influence on the Coalition's agenda. Sceptics will argue that the Government needs to be bolder in rolling back state intrusion and say it can be judged only by the impact of the measures on everyday life.

Five hundred hard-disk drives and 100 back-up tapes, containing the personal details of early ID card applicants, have already been electronicaly wiped. They will be taken to an Essex industrial estate to be shredded and the remains burned in a factory furnace in Birmingham.

Damian Green, the Home Office minister who will oversee the destruction, said in an interview with The Independent: "This is the final stake through the heart of the identity card scheme." He insisted the destruction went beyond its symbolic value: "This isn't just a one-off – it's a significant step on the Coalition Government's move towards greater freedom for the British people," he said.

The Protection of Freedoms Bill, to be published tomorrow, will pave the way to new controls on the collection and retention of DNA samples by police in England and Wales. At the moment, genetic material can be stored indefinitely, regardless of whether the person who provided it is convicted. Samples from more than 1 million innocent people are stored. The Government will require police to destroy samples from people not charged or acquitted, unless they were arrested for violent offences.

Mr Green's DNA was taken in 2008 after he was arrested briefly as an opposition MP for receiving leaked Whitehall documents and took "months of prodding" to have his sample destroyed.

Guy Herbert, of NO2ID, said: "I have no doubt coalition ministers' hearts are in the right place. But there's huge momentum in Whitehall for data-sharing and next month we will have the most intrusive census ever."

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