The Home Office's consultation on its ID (aka Entitlement) Card proposals closes today, amidst complaints from privacy campaigners that the government has broken its own rules in canvassing opinions on its controversial plans.
Human rights group Privacy International has lodged a complaint on the consultation process with the Parliamentary Ombudsman, due to several alleged breaches of the Government's own code of practice.
Privacy International alleges four breaches of the Code of Practice relating to requirements for even-handedness, specificity, impact assessment and declaration of the relevant complaints procedure.
The organisation has called on the government to extend the consultation period until the Ombudsman's investigation can be completed.
"The Home Office has been guilty of maladministration throughout the entire consultation process. It should accept that an extension of the consultation period is squarely in the public interest," said Privacy International's Director, Simon Davies.
Davies' comments were supported by an open letter to the Prime Minister signed by a number of business, welfare and political groups, also alleging breach of the Code of Practice. Those groups include the Foundation for Information Policy Research, the Association of Community Health Councils, the International Commerce Exchange and Liberty.
On January 23 Downing Street declared an end to the consultation period. Curious that, because the Home Office entitlement card unit says, and Home Office spin-doctors confirm, the consultation ends today.
The No 10 statement states "with over 2,000 responses the government said no decision has been taken on whether to proceed with a scheme to introduce [Entitlement] cards". Unlike previous government statements it does not contain the assertion that two in three responses are in favour of entitlement (ID cards).
But wait a minute there's been 4,954 responses through pressure group Stand.org's Website alone, which the government promised to treat as valid consultation submissions.
Privacy International's Simon Davies told us that the government figures simply don't add up.
"The government has lost the numbers game and is facing a hostile public inquiry because of its maladministraion of the consultation process," Davis told us. He'd like to see consultation extended for a further six months and focused around more detailed government plans.
Davis hopes for a "gracious capitulation" by the government to Privacy International's criticisms, but believes the Home Office is "arrogant and set in a certain direction" towards pushing through ID cards.
"Extending consultation is the sensible thing to do but the government is more likely to dig themselves into a hole then try to talk their way out of it later," he said.
What's the controversy about
Privacy International has put together an FAQ on the government's proposals that highlight its numerous concerns. It argues introducing ID cards will be costly and complicated while the cards will do little to further the government's stated objectives of using them to combat benefit fraud and terrorism.
More background material is here. ®