[Martin Catonin the Chair]
Written evidence to be reported to the House
ID 01 Justice
ID 02 Dr Barnard-Wills
ID 03 Daniel Paul Fuller
ID 04 London School of Economics and Political Science
ID 05 Gillian Bradley
ID 06 Manchester Airports Group
ID 07 Equality and Human Rights Commission
ID 08 David Moss
ID 09 Information Commissioner’s Office
ID 10 Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
Thank you. Before calling the first question, I remind hon. Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill and that we must stick strictly to the timing of the programme motion with which the Committee has agreed. I hope that I do not have to interrupt mid-sentence, but I will do so if need be. I call first Meg Hillier.
Thank you, Mr. Caton. As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I wish first to direct my questions to Mr Fazackerley. It would be helpful if the Committee got an idea of the scheme described in your evidence, which you were working up, to use ID cards to gain certain benefits within the airports system.
Mike Fazackerley: In broad terms, we were using the ID card scheme to lever some improvements to what had become quite a time-consuming and onerous process to get an airport ID card. We felt that giving the added identity certainty that would come with the ID card would enable us to do that. We managed to win the argument to extend the validity of the airport ID card to match that of the national ID card. At Manchester, that meant we moved from a three-year cycle for renewing the ID card, which was quite a painful process, to a cycle that was up to 10 years long. We also used it as a lever to debate with other airports the ability to hold individual data files and, with the person’s permission, to transfer that data file to a new employer or to a different airport, so that moving between airports or employers could be a much easier process for employees, because they would not have to redo all of the stuff that they did for airport ID cards.
Mike Fazackerley: During the 18-month evaluation period, the immediate benefit was that, for people who were going through the process for the second time, or who were renewing the pass because of a change of an employer or whatever, it could become a same-day process, because they did not need to redo all of that work.
For new applicants during the evaluation period, there would have been only a very marginal reduction in time because of improved application forms and so forth, but we were hopeful. If the evaluation had led to a national ID card scheme, we were already in discussions with Disclosure Scotland, the Criminal Records Bureau and the Home Office about using it to get to a joint application process, and as a means of shortening the initial application as well.
Mike Fazackerley: We had got to the point where, if you had already gone through the process, and if you wanted to change your pass within the life of the pass that had been issued, we as the airport would hold a data file that had your CRB check and all your references on it, which traditionally had been held by your previous employer.
Mike Fazackerley: I actually do not have that information. The Identity and Passport Service was quite careful not to share information that was not relevant to us. In my own experience—I applied and got one—I waited about 10 days for the appointment and then the card came a couple of days after the appointment.
The reason you wanted to use the ID card system was to speed up your process. We have been told all along that the ID card system was going to be purely voluntary, therefore you would have had a two-tier system, because you would have been treating people who did not have ID cards differently from those who did. Would you eventually have been trying to ensure that everyone who came along for a job had an ID card? That would have made it no longer voluntary, but compulsory.
Mike Fazackerley: No, we certainly were not going to go down that route. Our aim was to create a situation where the advantages of applying for an airport ID card with a national ID card were sufficient and people wanted to do it. Would that have worked? I do not know—we did not do it for long enough.
I have heard various reasons why a better process would be useful and I can understand that. You talked about the Department for Transport agreeing that you could do 10-year transferable passes. Is there a fundamental reason why the DFT could not do that based on a passport, or is it just that the DFT was trying to make things easy for you in this instance, but would not otherwise?
Mike Fazackerley: No. Again, we have been quite clear that the benefits could, in theory, remain if we had access to biometric passport checking. Even with the first-generation biometric passports, if we had a means of checking them and verifying that it was a valid document and that it belonged to that person, I believe we could still offer those advantages. In fact, that is very much where we would like to get to.
Following on from that, presumably there must have been some sort of briefing or seminar before you signed up to the scheme when it was indicated what exactly you were signing up to. I take that London City and other groups were there as well. You must have had a preliminary briefing.
Mike Fazackerley: As you would expect in any community, it was a bit of a bell curve. There was a percentage who rushed out and who wanted it on day one; I dare say that there was a small percentage that would never have had one under any circumstances; and the majority in the middle were pleased to get the benefits that were offered. We held a number of briefings with trade union staff and management of the various employees at the airport. Generally speaking, the response was positive.
You have gone through some of the evaluation. The Bill proposes repealing the scheme, but whether or not the card continues to exist in its current form, can you see the longer term benefits that there would have been, including security improvements, time and cost-saving, and greater convenience, had the pilot scheme been rolled out more widely and made available to others?
Mike Fazackerley: I think that the principal benefits to airport workers are exactly as we have outlined: there is the ability to streamline and speed up, and to make the process of getting an airport pass easier. There were some marginal benefits; for example, we dramatically reduced the amount of data that we were holding on individuals, because we felt that we did not need data that the Government had, but I guess that that is fairly marginal.
It is interesting, because that issue came up in evidence this morning, and it is perhaps not so marginal. For you, was the fingerprint—we are talking about biometrics, but essentially it was a fingerprint in this case—a significant part of identity assurance, meaning that you could rely on it and let go of the information that you were previously holding?
Another thing that is sort of connected to the Bill is that there has been a halt on the Government introducing fingerprints into passports, which was scheduled to happen from 2012. The Minister will be able to explain what that means exactly. Do you have any views on whether that would make a difference, if you were to go down the route that you mentioned of using passports?
Mike Fazackerley: We have expressed the view that the benefits that we were trying to lever for airside workers were not linked to the national identity card as such. That was just a vehicle for improvement. Those benefits could as easily be achieved with the second-generation biometric passport, with the fingerprint. Could we lever the same benefits with the first-generation chip passport that we have now? Possibly, but it would depend very much on whether we could link the systems to which we have access, to verify that the passport was genuine and belonged to the person. I believe that that could be possible.
On a point of clarification, Mr Green asked Mike a question about the fact that it takes eight to 12 weeks to carry out the security side of the process, but if a card is lost or misplaced, it can be replaced within 24 hours. Did you say that no further security checks were carried out?
At the point of the eight-to-12-week process. But did you say that no further security checks were carried out if the card was lost or needed to be replaced thereafter?
Part of the rationale for the ID cards is the protection of our borders, protection from illegal immigration, protection against ID fraud and protection from terrorism. At Manchester airport, you are very much on the front line. You are a sort of gateway, controlling the passage of people who are travelling to and fro, and maintaining the integrity of our borders. We have heard about the importance of ensuring that the staff are properly screened so that there are no opportunities for ID fraud or for terrorists to penetrate what is quite a sensitive installation. What is your opinion about how the scheme worked in your case? Do you think that it was good, bad, or indifferent? Was it helpful?
Mike, on the benefits, you said that the scheme had helped to streamline the process and had made things a bit easier. Had you done any cost-benefit analysis of the tangible benefits, to see whether it cut your operating costs or saved you money? I am trying to get a sense of the tangible benefits that were brought to you as a business.
Mike Fazackerley: We were only newly into the 18-month evaluation, and we wanted to avoid a situation in which we might be accused of being slightly biased in our enthusiasm, but having said that, the Identity and Passport Service had done a pre-evaluation survey of employers, to test out their views of the existing airport pass application process—the cost and so forth. The intention, as I understand it, was to do a follow-up at the end of the evaluation process, talking to employers and asking, “How was that for you? Has it improved the process? Has it streamlined it? Has it saved you money?”
On a slightly separate topic, you said that your staff broadly welcomed the scheme, but I remember that some of the unions, certainly, were very hostile—some of the air unions proposed motions at the TUC against the whole scheme. Clearly, there were differences of opinion.
Mike Fazackerley: The initial position was that the local trade union representatives were, in fact, very supportive, but certain trade unions at a national level were quite opposed to the principle. That changed. Participation was initially going to be compulsory for airside workers, but just before the evaluation period started, it was changed to a voluntary scheme, and at that point the trade union opposition seemed to disappear.
One final point: you mentioned that you would like to see some of the benefits of the evaluation continue, although the evaluation only got to a certain point. Would you like to keep that going and see the full benefits, perhaps in an attempt to reignite such uses, even with another document?
Going back to that, when airside workers realised that the scheme was no longer compulsory, and it went back to being voluntary, they basically dropped their opposition—purely because, I suggest, they knew they would not need to sign up to it. That has to be the rep case, does it not?
Mike Fazackerley: Possibly. That is not for me to answer. Our belief from the outset was that that the national ID card could be used to make life better for both employers and employees. We always understood that Parliament would have the last word on the matter, but it was our view that, if we were right, people would want to have a national ID card. I cannot say whether, in the fullness of time, that would have proved to be the case. I do not know.
I am quite impressed by the proactive way in which you used the scheme to find a better system for yourself. It looks to me as if we are trying to fix a terrible airside pass system by having a hugely expensive national ID system, when actually the answer would have been just to fix the poor system. Is that a fair conclusion?
Mike Fazackerley: I certainly would not dream of trying to justify expenditure on the national ID card system simply as a means of fixing the airport ID card—not at all. That is not to say that there are not other ways of fixing the airport ID card system for the benefit of everyone in the industry; of course there are. It was an opportunity.
In effect, some of the innovative ideas that were put into the scheme could be replicated, as you have said, using the passport database or something similar, so that we get the best of this world without, perhaps, the worst.
Mike, you said that you would not justify the cost of the ID card system for Manchester airport. Would you justify the cost of the trial? Do you feel that you got £100,000-worth of taxpayer benefits from what you went through, given that you were not able to give us any example of tangible advantages that came out of it? Could you spend a hundred grand in a better way, if you were given it now?
Mike Fazackerley: It would be difficult to say yes to that when ultimately, it certainly seems that it is all going to have to be pulled back when we go back to square one. Have we got some benefits along the way? Yes, because the scheme gave us an opportunity thoroughly to overhaul and review how we do things. It gave a spark to talking to other airports. We have now aligned with places such as London City airport, and we are trying to get other airports to do the same. So there has certainly been some benefit, which we would hope to find a way to retain.
Angela Epstein: First of all, may I say that I do not represent a body, such as Manchester airport? I do not represent an employer. I do not represent anybody other than myself, so any information that I give you is purely anecdotal and based on how the ID card scheme would have helped me.
When the scheme was first floated, I just thought that it was a good idea—a safe, convenient and secure way of proving identity. I remembered my mum talking about having an identity card after the war—everybody, even babies, had them. It was not a jingoistic thing, and it was not something to be deplored; it was just a safe, secure way of proving identity. I got an ID card purely for the convenience of it—it was the size of a credit card, it was in my purse, and it was only £30. That is not an insignificant amount in this economic climate, but I did not see any downside to having one.
Angela Epstein: As I say, I did not get an ID card to stop terrorism. I got one because I thought it was a safe and secure way of proving identity. It was not a scheme that I was party to when it was being constructed—or deconstructed; I am not sure how that will work. I could see that possibly, if it was a watertight way of proving identity—for example, through biometric information—it could prove that certain people were not who they said they were, or who they were supposed to be, and that could help. But that was not what drove me to get one.
Given the low take-up of voluntary ID cards—it is even lower now that we have found out that 2,500 cards were yours, Mr Fazackerley—was your position representative of people in this country?
Angela Epstein: I have no idea whether I am representative of people in this country. I represent only myself, as I said. I am not here as a poster girl for the ID card; I can only tell you what it did for me. I do not mean to sound aggressive when I say that, but the problem with a scheme that has a fairly low uptake is that people think you are somehow a flag-bearer for it.
If you want anecdotal evidence, in a straw poll of people I knew, I found that people were neither pleased nor displeased by the card. It was not mandatory, so nobody was running to spend £30 on it. The people I know who did get cards thought that they were a good idea, mainly for the convenience and security of proving identity. It is an absolute pain in the neck to lose your passport and it is an expensive process to get a new one. I probably give more information away when I use my supermarket loyalty card. It sounds ridiculous, and it sounds as though I am being facetious, but I am astounded by how much information is known about me through my using my mobile phone—I get cold-calling on my mobile—and through spam e-mail. I have not surrendered any of that information; it is information that is in the public domain. I think that concern was just a ridiculously hysterical, over-anxious response to a scheme that, to me, just flagged up common sense.
Angela Epstein: This is the sorry state that we have brought ourselves to: the fact is that the scheme was in its embryonic stage, and I have not had a chance to use the card properly, so I can neither prove nor disprove the arguments about ID cards. That is the flaw in where the Bill is at; it is a knee-jerk response to a scheme that has not had a chance to prove what it could or could not do. By all means, let its detractors say, “It didn’t do what it said on the tin,” but we have not had enough time to prove that.
Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to travel through Europe since December, and therefore have not been able to use the card more conveniently, but if I had had to go to France on work, or to Spain for pleasure, I would have been very happy to use it. The situation did not arise. There have been situations, historically, when I have had to rummage around for utility bills or documentation—pieces of information—to prove identity. It would have been a lot easier to use my ID card.
Angela Epstein: It is absolutely outrageous. Some people would argue that it was always mooted that, should the Government change and the Tories or the Con-Libs—or whatever you want to call them—come to office, the scheme would be junked. The Conservatives were certainly quite vocal about that, but you cannot legislate for what is going to happen in the future. You cannot not buy a car because there is going to be some change in legislation that will mean it depreciates the minute you choose to drive it. I had faith in the scheme and, as a member of the British public who paid to take part in a scheme that was lawful and that was promised, I believe, a 10-year lifespan, I would have thought that that promise should be honoured. It is a dereliction of parliamentary duty not to give me back my money.
There are two potential options: you can either have your £30 back or you can get credit the next time you update your passport. I presume you would prefer the first.
You used some very strong language when you spoke about compensation. I am interested to know whether you recognise that there is a distinction. I would have more sympathy with the argument if it had been a compulsory scheme—if the cards were being forced on people—but, as the previous Government made clear, it was voluntary. It was entirely your decision; nobody forced you to spend £30 on something when you knew that a Government who pledged to get rid of the cards could be elected. In the end, it was your decision to do it. Nobody forced you to spend that £30. It is like buying an analogue TV set, then three years down the line, it all goes digital, and your TV set is no longer useful.
Angela Epstein: With the greatest respect, that is a flawed argument. The ID card came with a 10-year lifespan, and that at least should have been honoured. I would have been quite happy to have been able to use it for the lifespan of the card. When you buy a television, it comes with a three-year guarantee. If you take your TV back before the three years are up—if it is faulty or there has been some change in the mechanism so you can no longer use it—you are within your rights to get your money back, or to have your television updated. I am afraid that I do not recognise your argument.
Angela Epstein: Right. You could say that about anything you do all the time. We are a free country; we are a democracy. That is the beauty of what we are doing here today. We have not been arm-locked into doing this; this is democracy in progress. I am sorry to repeat myself but, as I said, I cannot legislate for what a future Government might do. I can only have faith in what a Government do at the point of sale. There have been plenty of election howlers, when people have predicted that a Government would take office, but they have not done so. Who was to say that the Tories would get in anyway? But I was not thinking along political lines. The fact is that at the point of sale, the ID cards were available in good faith—and in good faith, I got one.
You are making an interesting point. You argue that Governments should not be able to change things that have been agreed by previous Governments. That seems to be where you are heading. If you make a decision—an investment decision, to get an identity card or anything else—and there is a change of Government, your argument seems to be that the new Government should not be allowed to do anything that would change the decision you could have made. I find that very worrying. I think that Governments should be able to undo errors made by previous Governments whether it comes to this or more broadly. Are you arguing this just because you invested £30 or are you trying to make the case that Governments should not be able to make changes to previous Governments’ decisions?
Angela Epstein: Like I said, I am not a poster girl for the ID card or for how this was constructed. I am not here under any political banner and neither am I trying to specify that this should have been a landmark ruling by which all future governmental decisions should be made. I am looking purely as a member of the public at what the ID card said on the tin. It cost £30 and in return I got a 10-year guarantee that I could prove my identity with a little piece of plastic in my purse. It is not for me to worry about the implications of deconstructing a Bill—this is what you are all here for and it is not what I do. With the greatest of respect, it is wrong to push me in that direction, because that is not what I mean at all.
Angela Epstein: Yes, you did and I am answering in a very simple way. As I member of the public I saw the ID card as a very useful way for me to move through Europe to prove my identity. I do not carry my driving licence with me all the time. It cannot go in my purse like a credit card so I found it very useful in that respect.
—and you proceeded to apply first for it. But a driving licence—I may be strongly criticised by the people who introduced it—and an ID card are exactly the same size, give or take a millimetre.
Angela Epstein: You said that I had written about this in newspapers. There is an implication there that somehow I was leading some kind of crusade. I am in the supremely fortunate position of being a columnist for a newspaper which means that I have the great honour and privilege of being allowed to platform my opinions. It is a great thing. That is beautiful. It is democracy in process. I saw the ID card as a great scheme and I wrote about it. I said, “This is marvellous. I think everyone should get one if they want one.” My moot point about all this is that there has been a great argument about the Big Brother element of the ID card and that data protection will be compromised. I have not asked anybody to get an ID card, but the people who do not have them are telling me not to have one. I wonder who the Big Brother is here. So whether or not my driving licence has a picture on it, whether or not it fits in my purse, this was a personal choice. It seemed like a very reasonable scheme and a fair exchange for £30. I do not see that there is a great problem with that.
Presumably you apply for a driving licence when you intend to drive. That was why I applied for mine. Not everybody intends to learn to drive or wants to do so. So presumably for those people an ID card would be a valuable option?
Angela Epstein: Absolutely. I was going to come to that. I have a 17-year-old son for whom an identity card would be really useful. He does not have a car. He has only just passed his test so he has only recently acquired a driving licence. There is a whole demographic for which identity cards would be perfectly useful. The driving licence is bandied around as comparative to ID cards, but the assumption that everyone has one is erroneous. I totally agree with you.
You say that you bought your card in good faith. Do you think it is fair to compare a purchase from a retailer to a purchase from the Government? Surely an Act of Parliament and a purchase from the Government are very different from, and not comparable to, the purchase of a retail product.
Angela Epstein: Ms Phillipson is quite right. A retailer can go into liquidation and that is a consumer choice, but this, as she said, was an Act of Parliament—it was part of the structure of Government. People use comparisons all the time because they are easy bullet points for ID cards. They talk about driving licences and taking your telly back, but that sullies the whole issue of what ID cards represent.
We heard from witnesses this morning that there was a real risk that the identity card database—we have not really talked about that with you this afternoon—was an attack on personal civil liberty. That was the big worry and there was a concern that, even if it was benevolent now, it would become big and bad in the future. Do you have any comments on that? Have you thought about whether the database was an attack on your civil liberties?
Angela Epstein: I do not think that it is an attack on my civil liberties. The sloppy way in which databases have been safeguarded, judging by what I have read, is more of an issue than the information at the time of surrendering. I do not have a problem. This always sounds clichéd, but I am a law-abiding citizen: I do not have anything to hide or anything to prove. If you want to know my name, my age, what I do for a living and even my religious identity, I do not have a problem. If you want my thumb print, that is fine, because I have nothing to lose.
It is ironic that the huge queue to get into Parliament earlier was an almighty scrum with people screaming that they were going to miss their 3.30 appointment, because of what seems to me, with respect, to be a fairly hackneyed scheme to get into the building. It would be so much easier and smoother if people had identity cards that they just had to slip in. I had my photograph taken here—what for? I did not object; this is who I am. There is a lot of sound and fury about data protection and privacy, but we surrender information about ourselves all the time. If we are law-abiding, there is no reason for us not to do that.
Another concern that people have raised is that, in order to protect civil liberties, there would be a track of who looked up information on the register. That would prove that you were the only person who had done that with your card and perhaps, in time, there would be a reading machine. Did you have concerns about that tracking of access to any data about you, or were you not worried about it?
Angela Epstein: Every move we all make is more or less tracked by the Big Brother culture. This sitting is being filmed, no doubt. There are microphones and CCTV cameras everywhere. Every transaction we make is stored. Every day, supermarkets sell lists containing information about whether we buy nappies or designer water to companies that can use it for commercial purposes. I think that the information contained on an ID card and the way we would use it is more than comparable to the other ways in which we are tracked every day by the surveillance society, which is what we are by necessity.
You have been asked a number of questions about why you chose to have an ID card and we have talked about the documents. Was the attachment to a fingerprint a material part of your decision to have an ID card?
That brings me to my final point. You have made it very clear that you are not political, but the current Government policy is to halt the introduction of fingerprints to passports from 2012. Halt does not mean an end to it. Do you have any comments on that?
Angela Epstein: I think that it is very unfortunate that they are doing that. Passports are the way that we prove identity. We have to show them when we travel abroad. We have to prove that we are who we say we are. I do not understand why having a fingerprint to prove who you are is any more invasive than having a photograph.
On that point, would the card be a sufficiently recognised form of ID, and would you get value for the £30 that you paid, if nobody in the country actually recognised the card, given that only 15,000 people would ever have one?
The question I was asking was if just the 15,000 cards currently in existence were retained and were valid for 10 years, would anyone recognise them as a valid form of ID, given that people would be so unfamiliar with them?
Angela Epstein: If they are maintained and recognised for 10 years. They cannot be maintained as part of a package—either they exist and are, therefore, recognised, or they do not. It is like saying you can have the £5 note in your pocket, but some shops will not take it. Either the cards are legal tender in terms of identification or they are not.
But they will only be of any use if the place you take them to actually recognises them as valid. If people in Nottingham have not seen one of these cards for two years, and you try to use one to prove your ID, might they not say, “I don’t recognise this thing.”
Angela Epstein: It is like saying, “I’ve never seen an American Express card before” or “I’ve never seen a Coutts bank card before.” Ask somebody in a local shop in Llandudno if they have seen a Coutts banker’s cheque, and they might say, “What’s that?” If you say, “Actually, it’s from one of the oldest banks in the country,” they might say, “Well, I’ve never seen one.”
I was trying to ask you whether you thought you would get full value. I had another question. I was looking through my wallet, thinking, “What would I not have to carry if I had an ID card,” but I could not actually find anything. From your experience, is there anything that you do not carry that you used to carry, now that you have your ID card?
Angela Epstein: Ironically, I have not had cause to go to Europe in the short time that I have had one, but I would not have to take a passport. If I had dealings with my bank—if I wanted to change my bank account—I would not have to take utility bills or anything else in, which would be very useful. I have not had enough time to use my card yet. I am sorry, but that is why I cannot give you a fuller answer; I have not had enough time. That is the great flaw in this whole Bill; you have not given people time to prove what a good idea this is.
Sorry. It contrasts with your view that you thought the card was guaranteed to last for 10 years, if you thought there would be a review at some time halfway through.
May I ask almost exactly the same questions? Mr Fazackerley, I do not know whether you or your staff have had the opportunity to use the card in some of the ways that were being asked of Miss Epstein. Have you or your staff had the opportunity to use the card, and how simple have they found its use, not just in the work situation, but in the wider world?
Mike Fazackerley: I think that mainly the people I know have made use of it for travel. Initially there were one or two problems, because knowledge of the card had not got out, particularly to airlines, but that was soon solved. It is used mainly for travel, and the reason is that had the evaluation period led to a full roll-out, the intention was that banks, retailers and so forth would have the ability not just to visually check cards, but to biometrically check them. Of course, that has not happened, but that would have been the engine to make them more useful.