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My Lords, the Government have previously stated that the introduction of identity cards would be prohibitively expensive and would represent a substantial erosion of civil liberties. This remains our position and, as such, we have held no further discussions on the introduction of identity cards.
My Lords, do not last week’s appalling statistics on the screening out by police forces of up to 80% of crimes such as burglary, mugging, theft, fraud, dangerous driving and even sexual offences ring alarm bells in government despite what the Minister has just said, and suggest that a national review is required of the investigative tools available to the police? Could such a review not consider the benefits of ID cards and protocols for the recording of fingerprints, iris recognition and even DNA, which would greatly help the police in the fight against crime?
Of course the things the noble Lord mentioned latterly are all tools in the police’s armoury in investigating and dealing with criminals. Incorporating that into an ID card that embraces all those things goes against civil liberties. We believe that identity should be provided for the purpose for which it is needed, not for everything but just for a single event.
Does my noble friend recollect that I have frequently said that the priority is not so much an identity card as a secure, reliable identity number to take the place of the unreliable, insecure, deeply corrupt national insurance numbers, national health numbers and so on? When will Ministers start to challenge the stubbornness of the Home Office in refusing to consider these issues? We had a disgraceful example of that stubbornness in the debate yesterday, with the point-blank refusal even to consider taking the necessary action to restore the reputation of Sir Edward Heath, which was trashed in Wiltshire.
I am not sure how my noble friend’s two points tie together. He talks about an identity number, and of course a national insurance number is a form of identity number. Certainly it proves a person’s right to work in this country. I am not sure how a separate national identity number would add to the mix; nor am I sure how my noble friend thinks that national insurance numbers are corrupt, unless he is saying that they are used corruptly, but I am sure that the same would also potentially be true of national identity numbers.
My Lords, the police are trialling new fingerprint technology that allows police officers to use their smartphones to identify people in less than a minute if they have a criminal record. Heathrow Airport is introducing voluntary facial recognition instead of passports and boarding passes. Does the Minister agree that identity cards are a bit old hat, as is the legislation to control the use of facial recognition and other biometric recognition, which is in urgent need of attention?
The noble Lord makes a very good point about the new technologies that the police and airports are using. I heard about the trial of facial imagery at Heathrow Airport. Now, every time you go through a gate at an airport, a machine recognises you by your face. However, he is absolutely right that the governance of the use of facial imagery, fingerprints and the new emerging technologies has to be looked at very carefully.
Does the noble Baroness’s department have a corporate memory of the fact that during the war we had identity cards for three purposes? Soon after the war, these were extended to around 50 purposes. As a result, we had a bonfire of ID cards in about 1952, for very good reasons. We are not a country that likes being controlled by various authoritarian people.
The noble Earl is absolutely right, and that was at the heart of our reason, in the coalition years, for resisting the idea of ID cards. He will of course know that I do not remember the war.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the pass I am wearing is a very useful identity card in a sense but that we rely more on the skills of the doorkeepers and the people who know us, rather than this identity card? Would it not be better to have a card that identified the holder with the card? It would then be a biometric identity card and would clearly identify, at a minute’s notice, people coming into the country and people stopped by the police. It would be far better than what we have at the moment. Passports have biometric information on them and we use them, so how do identity cards differ? Clearly, they would help in the fight against terrorism and serious crime.
I disagree with the noble Lord that it would clearly help in the fight against terrorism. As we have seen in Europe, certainly over the last few years, identity cards are widespread but this has not helped in the fight against terrorism. The noble Lord talks about his pass and he is absolutely right: this pass is a specific thing for a specific purpose and, yes, the doormen are incredibly vigilant in the work they do, for which I have the greatest respect. But he describes why identity cards would probably not be a good thing.