Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:06 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative, Lancaster and Wyre 9:06 pm, 28th June 2005

I do not intend in the short time allocated to discuss the ideology behind the ID card, but rather to bring some of my experience to the debate. I worked a number of years in the field of counter-terrorism, both in the armed forces and alongside some civilian agencies. I am well aware of the issues that people face in fighting terrorism on the ground. Until recently, I was the director of the Government's own organisation, Qinetiq—the Defence Evaluation and Research Authority, as it used to be known—specialising in the area of security and ID. That organisation is one of the biggest research bodies in Europe, so it knows a thing or two about technology. It is currently working on a number of projects in the Home Office.

There are a number of flaws, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the proposals, the first being the idea that this ID scheme will help deal with terrorism. In my experience, we never caught any terrorists on account of ID cards. We caught them as a result of surveillance, human intelligence, intercepts and perhaps the good use made of knowledge about the community in which the terrorists lived.

One real problem that the Home Office seems not to recognise is that terrorists adapt to weakness in the system, and this system is weak in a range of areas—tourist visas, for example. Last year, 24.7 million tourists visited the UK. For a terrorist organisation, the weakness is obvious: no longer need they use citizens of the UK as their operatives to attack the UK, as they can import them from outside. That is precisely what they have already done across the world. There are 850,000 Irish citizens resident in the UK and we have already heard that the scheme has nothing to do with them.

Failures overseas are relevant. According to a Labour Member earlier, ID cards helped to catch the culprits after the suicide bombing in Madrid. In fact, they did not: it was mobile phone intercepts that caught them and helped the Spanish follow up what happened. The Home Office also needs to be aware that a suicide bomber is a one-time weapon. It was first seen in train attacks in Chechnya, which is where al-Qaeda's specialty originated from. [Interruption.] Perhaps Home Office Ministers should do their homework before shouting from a sedentary position. Terrorists adapt to weaknesses in the system: that is the issue, and the proposed ID card will not solve the problem.

About 50 per cent. of terrorists currently identified or languishing in jails in Northern Ireland have no previous record whatever. They have never had any trace to terrorism, so they will be able to use their new ID cards with impunity. Clearly, 50 per cent. of the people who have been involved in terrorist attacks will have free rein and the Bill will not solve the problem.

The second flaw relates to the prevention of identity theft. It is true that the database will allow an identity to be stolen only once, but the system needs to be set up and 48 million people will have to join the queue to get an identity card. So when the Under-Secretary presents himself and the database says, "I'm sorry, but a Mr. Burnham is already on here. Here are his biometrics and birth certificate, and a passport has been issued"—incidentally, the birth certificate is the real flaw in the identity system—the Under-Secretary will say, "Well, I'm Mr. Burnham. I'm the genuine article." The fundamental change is that the onus will then be put on the genuine Mr. Burnham—the innocent individual—to prove to the state that he is the real thing, not the person who stole his identity the year before.

People will be able to steal others' identities under the proposals, and I can all but guarantee that in the next 10 to 15 years a terrorist attack will be perpetrated by someone with a new identity card. When that happens, the Government's scheme will be exposed as an expensive, flawed scheme that has also taken away many liberties.

The issue of privacy is also important. What the Government have not said is that the database will log every question put to it. The pattern of questions put to it will indicate exactly who someone's doctor or dentist is.

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