Identity Cards Bill
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office; Labour)
I understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness but, looking at the drafting, I do not think that that concern is justified. I shall explain why I think that the noble Lord can remain calm and content about this.
As the noble Lord and the noble Baroness rightly say, Clause 14 is about providing a means for a person to establish his own identity by authorising an organisation to obtain verification from the register that he is who he says he is. I make it clear that the other safeguards already in the Bill ensure that the checks made under Clause 14 really are voluntary. That is the issue that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness are worried about—they want to know whether they are real.
Subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 14 already allow only a limited part of the information held in Schedule 1 to be provided. Fingerprints, biometric information and the answers to security questions can be confirmed but not provided. Registration and card history, validation information and audit trail information cannot be provided in response to a check under Clause 14, even if the individual consents. Further restrictions can be imposed under subsection (4)(b) by regulations, should that prove necessary. Noble Lords will see that that paragraph states:
"by regulations impose restrictions in addition to those contained in this section on the information that may be provided to a person under this section".
So we can strengthen this safeguard if we find that we need to.
Subsection (6) makes provision for an accreditation system for user organisations. I can confirm that only organisations which have been accredited as being suitable and as having adequate systems for security will be approved.
Amendment No. 180 defines consent as being explicit. It is worth recalling that when the Data Protection Directive was implemented through the Data Protection Act 1998, Parliament chose not to define "consent". Consideration was given to whether a definition was necessary but it was considered to be unnecessary because a substantial amount of case law, with which I know the noble Lord is familiar, has addressed the concept of consent from many different angles. I know that the noble Baroness will also have dealt with consent in her capacity as a magistrate. Our common law system has covered the ground extremely thoroughly. Creating a short statutory definition would add nothing and might even cause confusion.
It is self-explanatory and consistent with the common law that consent for a check to be made on the register must be freely given by a person who understands that his card or, as the case may be, his biometrics are being used to verify his identity. Amendment No. 178 requires that an application for the provision of information is made with the express authority of the individual. For similar reasons, as I said in relation to consent, we believe that it will be taken as read that "authority" means "a freely given and informed authority". Perhaps we should also consider that under Clause 14(5)(a) there is a power to make provision by way of regulations about how an authority for the purposes of Clause 14(1)(a) is to be given. That is important and should give us the required framework.
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that there has to be consent, it has to be freely given for it to be valid in accordance with our usual understanding, and we think that the provisions that we have made are adequate. It is too early to have a draft SI on "authority" but we hope that this explanation has taken the matter a long way. Noble Lords will know that my honourable friend Tony McNulty made a promise in Committee in the other place to provide further information on what regulations relating to authority will look like. It is too early to have a draft SI on authority, but we hope that the briefing that we have provided will help to reassure people about our thinking in that regard. I hope that what I have just said has calmed the noble Lord's troubled spirit, satisfied him that we are on the same page and will enable him to withdraw his amendment and I hope that the noble Baroness will be similarly content.