Key features of the Identity Cards Bill

The Identity Cards Bill can be found online here, and its passage through the House of Commons is due to finish on the 27th January. As spy.org.uk points out at the previous link, with only 8 planned sittings and such a short timetable for a complex bill with 184 amendments to consider, it is unlikely this legislation will receive adequate scrutiny in the House of Commons. Once again it will be down to the House of Lords to debate it more adequately.

I shall summarise some of the key features of the bill here.

The National Identity Register(NIR)

Section 1 sets up the NIR, and together with Schedule 1 determines what information will be stored on it. The information to be stored includes:

  • a unique National Idenity Registration Number(NIRN) for each person in the NIR.
  • your date of birth, gender, full name and any other name you’ve had.
  • your current address plus every address you’ve ever lived at.
  • your photo, signature and biometric scans.
  • your residential status plus every previous residential status you’ve had.
  • details of any official identity documents issued to you,
  • the history of all changes made to your NIR record,
  • details of all ID cards issued to you, their validity, whether you’ve been ordered to surrender them, etc.
  • details of all the information you’ve provided to register on the NIR and to apply for/renew your ID cards.
  • details of every occasion on which the NIR entry has been accessed by others. Note that when it becomes necessary to have your ID card and NIR entry checked in order to access public services, this item will thus record your usage of those services, e.g. what medical services you’ve signed up for.

Access to the information on the NIR

Note that where the Home Secretary gets powers to issue orders, the orders must be approved by both Houses of Parliament, unless otherwise stated.

Section 14 allows the Home Secretary to disclose some of the information on your NIR entry to you, or to someone else acting on your behalf, for purposes of verification of the data if you apply to for such access. The information you can get includes:

  • your name, date of birth, addresses and gender.
  • your identifying numbers and the validity of your identifying documents.
  • your photo and signature.
  • whether biometric scans taken from you matched the ones recorded for you.

The information you can access under this section does NOT include the record of changes to your NIR entry or the record of who has accessed your NIR entry. However, section 14(8) does permit access to the NIR record using other legislation such as the Data Protection Act. It is thus not clear whether an individual can get access to the record of who has accessed their NIR entiry.

Section 17 gives the Home Secretary the power to allow a person providing a public service to access the NIR to verify your identity, where the person is also authorised to check your ID card before providing the service (see also Section 15 and 16).

Section 19 sets out which public authorities can access NIR information without your consent (see also Section 20):

  • MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (see the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill) will get access to all of the information for the purposes of carrying out their functions.
  • The Police, Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise, will get access to all the information, except the record of who has accessed the NIR, in the interests of national security, for preventing or detecting crime and for other purposes specified by order of the Home Secretary. In the case of the IR and C&E they also get access for carrying out their functions and investigating conduct that might incur the penalties they can enforce.
  • Government departments get access to all the information, except the record of who has accessed the NIR, where the Home Secretary prescribes it for the exercising/carrying out of any powers or duties the deparment has by virtue of the Bill or for the issuing/modification of official documents.

Section 22 gives the Home Secretary the power to disclose specified information to a specified individual for specified purposes, by order.

The obligations the bill imposes

Section 6 gives the Home Secretary the power to compel individuals matching a specified description to register on the NIR and get a card by order. Failure to comply incurs a civil penalty of upto £2500.

Section 11 gives the Home Secretary the power to compel any person, by order, to provide information for the purposes of verifying information recorded, or due to be recorded, in the NIR, if he believes the individual has that information in their possession.

Section 12 requires ID card holders to notify the Home Secretary of any changes of circumstances that affect their information on the NIR and any error they become aware of in their NIR entry. The card holders may be ordered to attend a specific place at a specific time and have biometric scans taken and to provide any information required by the Home Secretary. Failure to comply can result in a civil penalty of upto £1,000 pounds.

Section 13 requires people to notify the Home Secretary if their card is lost, stolen, damaged, tampered with or destroyed. The Home Secretary can cancel a card if it appears to him to be lost, stolen, damaged, destroyed, tampered with, issued on the basis of incorrect or incomplete info, the NIR entry has been modified, a change of circumstances requires modification of the card or the card needs to be reissued.

A person in possession of someone else’s card must surrender it as soon as practical. The Home Secretary can require the surrender of a card if it is possessed by someone other than the card holder, or the card has been cancelled, expired or is otherwise invalid or if the card is to be reissued or if was acquired invalidly.

Damage is taken to include the card or anything on it having become unreadable or unusable for any reason — i.e. if the govt’s card reader damages your card, YOU are obliged to report the fact.

Failure to surrender a card when ordered, or to notify the Home Secretary of the loss, damage, tampering with, destruction of or stealing of your card is an offence punishable by upto 51 weeks in prison.

Section 15 allows the Home Secretary to issue orders allowing those providing public services to require checking of the ID card before allowing access to those services.

Section 17 allows the Home Secretary to issue orders allowing those providing public services to access information on the NIR to verify a cardholder’s identity.

Sections 27 to 31 make offences of:

  • possessing either false ID documents or the equipment for making false documents, with the intention of using the documents for enrolment, on pain of upto 10 years imprisonment.
  • possessing either false ID documents or equipment for making them without a reasonable excuse on pain of imprisonment for upto 5 years.
  • disclosing confidential NIR information without authorisation on pain of upto 2 years imprisonment or a fine or both,
  • providing false information to be included on the NIR or in order to modify information on the NIR. The offence carries upto 2 years in prison, or a fine or both.
  • tampering with the NIR, including any conduct making it more difficult or impossible for the NIR information to be retrieved (e.g. NIR operators going on strike?! The same operators making a mistake that causes a crash?!). The offence carries upto 10 years in prison, or a fine or both. See spy.org.uk’s comments on this clause.
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