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UK House of Lords debate national ID cards


A recent debate in the UK House of Lords examined the use of national ID cards to enhance security, fight terrorism and reduce fraud.

Biometrics Research Group, Inc., publisher of BiometricUpdate.com, defines national ID as a general identifier used by governments to verify a citizen and establish a link of trust. National ID is a means for tracking citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents for the purposes of work, taxation, government benefits, health care, and other governmentally-related functions.

Lord Campbell-Savours, a Labour peer who led the debate, argued that national ID cards should be introduced to end both identity and welfare fraud. National identity cards backed by sophisticated biometrics and strong authentication could help combat fraud that costs the UK an estimated £30bn a year, he noted during the debate.

Typically, national ID programs are large-scale identity management solutions. Lord Campbell-Savours argued that if Germany could introduce such a solution, it should also be possible for the British government to introduce such a program as well.

“A national identity card with relevant biometric data would be a powerful tool in ensuring that people pay the state for the services they receive,” he said during the debate. Lord Campbell-Savours argued that while a photograph or signature can be compromised, “digitised information is hard to replicate.” He noted that individuals “certainly cannot have two iris patterns on one eye, two different fingerprints on one finger, or even two different types of DNA.”

He argued that the purposes of a national identity card falls under four categories: “to reduce fraud; to establish entitlement to services; to provide security assurance; and to check identity more generally.”

As Biometrics Research Group noted in a previously issued report, identity security is a critical concern to governments that have responsibility for national security, revenue protection and law enforcement. False identities underpin some terrorist and criminal activity and undermine border and citizenship controls and efforts to combat terrorist financing and financial crime.

National ID cards can also guard against identity theft, which can constitute a major invasion of privacy and a serious concern due to legal and financial consequences. In order to combat these security challenges, many countries introduce national ID cards to verify the identities of persons accessing government or commercial services and benefits.

In the UK however, the National Identity Register (NIR), which was built to hold the fingerprints and personal details of millions of ID card holders by the previous Labour government was destroyed in 2011 by the then incoming Conservative government.

The Tory government at the time noted that the elimination of Labour’s ID card program demonstrated the Conservative government’s “commitment to scale back the power of the state and restore civil liberties.”

The Tory government still maintains this view. Conservative Lord Marlesford said during the debate that “What is urgently needed in the UK is the abolition — the abandonment —- of the chaotic multiplicity of identity numbers and the introduction of a single identity number.”

The government also maintains that ID card are too expensive. Lord Bates, Minister of State for the Home Office noted that spending £85 million on a national ID card program during times of austerity in 2010 would have been too high a price to pay for a service that would not deliver expected benefits.

Other peers during the Lords debate however argued that an ID card would have brought cost savings to Home Office operations by way of continuity across government departments and services.

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