David Blunkett's ID card draft bill came under fire yesterday from Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who told the Home Affairs Committee ID cards inquiry that his views on the subject had changed from healthy scepticism to "increasing alarm." Thomas, who intends to publish a critique of the draft next month, attacked the draft for lack of clarity or any clear statement of purpose, and pointed out that the real issue was not the individual's ability to identify themself with a piece of plastic, but the nature of the information to be held on the central ID register.
The Home Office, astoundingly, responded that Thomas was engaging in a "bit of grandstanding", expressing surprise that he hadn't raised his concerns directly with Home Secretary Blunkett.
Thomas did in fact submit a 30 page document and a summary of his views to the Home Office as part of the entitlement cards consultation exercise. In the latter, he said: "I am not satisfied that the current proposals would lead to establishing a data compliant scheme. A much more focused proposal needs to be brought forward with greater safeguards in relation to the quality, amount, and adequacy in relation to those narrower purposes. However, and most significantly, any new proposals need to have much more reliable safeguards against function creep over time, with strict legislation and independent and independent control being crucial features.... Should government decide to take forward its proposals I would be happy to work with the government to help ensure that only a scheme that is fully compliant with data protection legislation is developed."
So what part of that was it that the Home Office didn't understand? The draft bill is the next generation proposal, and given that is is even less focused and more multi-purpose than its predecessor, Thomas liking it any more would seem improbable.
But as he said to the Committee, he now likes it even less, and draws attention to its Sir Humphrey/Yes Minister statement of statutory purposes of the register. Clause one subsection two, for example, defines one purpose as being to provide "a record of registrable facts about individuals in the United Kingdom." That is the purpose of the register is to be a register, which is possibly not a great deal of help.
He declined to state absolutely that the draft bill was taking us into 1984 territory, but the Committee chairman responded that the Committee could draw its own conclusions on this. ®