[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair] — A Surveillance Society?

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:25 pm on 19th March 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security) 4:25 pm, 19th March 2009

We will not do that. We have other ways of targeting individuals. I know that the hon. Gentleman disagrees, but the register is aimed at ensuring that we can prove who people are, should they choose to put themselves on it.

Before the first identity cards can be issued to British citizens, we will also appoint an independent national identity scheme commissioner, who will have the sole responsibility of ensuring that the scheme complies with the obligations laid out in legislation. They will have full oversight of the register and the uses to which identity cards are put—the point that the hon. Gentleman made.

The commissioner will publish reports, at least annually, to be laid before Parliament, but should they have any concerns, those may be reported to the Secretary of State or the Information Commissioner, or raised before Parliament. If there is evidence of criminal activity, the matter may be referred to the police.

I say to the hon. Member for Hornchurch that the misuse of data on the register is a criminal offence carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Last year, the Home Secretary announced that we will shortly be publicly setting out the importance of communications data, explaining the technological changes that will affect our capability and seeking views on options for maintaining it in a way that commands public confidence.

On a small number of occasions, local authorities have used techniques under RIPA in ways that are unacceptable and inappropriate. We must be able to stop them. To emphasise that, in December, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government wrote to all local authority chief executives. These instances were the result of a failure to apply properly the tests in RIPA. To address that concern, we will shortly be holding a public consultation on the full list of public authorities able to use key techniques under RIPA, as well as related codes of practice.

We are also considering—the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East made this point—raising the rank at which RIPA techniques are authorised in local authorities to senior executive and giving elected councillors a role. The consultation will take place shortly.

I remain satisfied that the essential framework set out in RIPA is appropriate, but we must ensure that public confidence is maintained. The key in the RIPA framework is the test of necessity and proportionality.

Let me say a couple of words on data security. We take very seriously our responsibilities to protect personal information. Following the report that we are debating today and the Cabinet Office's data handling review, we have taken a number of key steps. For example, the Home Office has published an information charter setting out the standards that the public can expect from the Home Office when it requests or holds their personal information, how they can get access to their personal data and what they can do if they do not think that standards are being met.

Moreover, we have appointed a senior information risk owner to own and manage information risk, and she reports directly to the permanent secretary. Each of our main agencies and non-departmental public bodies has a senior risk owner.