Who do you think you are?

Being able to prove who we are is a fundamental requirement in modern societies. From applying for a job or opening a bank account to travelling or claiming for benefits, we are frequently asked to identify ourselves. And as more and more of us make use of the internet for shopping and financial transactions, we are acquiring an ever-increasing number of user names, PINs and passwords to establish who we are.
    
We currently rely on a variety of methods to confirm identity – from passports to driving licences and utility bills. These documents were not originally intended for this purpose and they can all too easily be fabricated to create false identities. Identity fraud is a growing crime in the UK. In 2004, the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System (CIFAS) recorded 120,000 cases of ID fraud compared with 101,000 in 2003. Fraudsters either create a fictitious identity or, more commonly, steal identities from living or deceased people. They then use these new identities to commit a range of frauds.

A secure scheme
The consequences for individuals can be very serious. The emotional trauma of having your name or loved ones’ names used to commit crimes; damage to credit status, not to mention the time and stress involved in clearing your name. That is why we need a robust, secure way to establish that identities are real and that the people presenting themselves really are the people they claim to be, and not impostors.
    
We are proposing an easy-to-use, highly secure scheme for personal identity for all UK residents aged over 16. It will comprise:

  • A rigorous check of each applicant’s biographical footprint to establish that the identity is real, relying less on paper documentation, which can be forged by criminals to establish a false identity;
  • Recording of biometrics (fingerprints, irises, facial image), and ‘sealing’ of the identity to those biometrics;
  • Issuing of personalised identity cards based on a common standard;
  • A new National Identity Register (NIR) to store biometrics and other identity information;
  • A range of identity services for organisations to confirm identity;
  • A new agency to manage the scheme, which will incorporate the UK Passport Service and build on their experience.  The agency will also work closely with IND and UK visas;
  • An independent scheme commissioner to oversee the proper functioning of the scheme.

This is a long term project that will take several years to bring to fruition, and will require all citizens to become enrolled. Initially British citizens will be issued with cards when they renew or apply for passports, and foreign nationals will get an ID card in the form of a biometric Residence Permit, Residence Card or Registration Certificate depending on their particular circumstances. The scheme is intended to become compulsory, subject to the agreement of Parliament, but there will be no requirement to carry an ID card.

Fighting fraud
Identity cards offer a wide range of other benefits to individuals and society. We know that free public services such as benefits and the NHS are abused by those not entitled to them. This fraud is unfair to the people who fund the services through taxation and National Insurance payments and it also diverts resources away from those most in need.
    
On the other hand, some people find it difficult to prove their entitlement to free public services, especially if they do not own a passport or a driving licence. Even those who own these documents can find it inconvenient, for example if they have moved house frequently, and need to provide proof of address going back over several years. An ID card will help to quickly and conveniently confirm eligibility for free public services and ensure that those people who do not have the right to use them will have to pay for them. Identity cards will also provide a standardised method of proving age. The large number of proof of age cards and schemes, make it very difficult for service providers to know which ones are legitimate and which are not. In addition, most proof of age cards are relatively easy to forge, which makes it hard to tell genuine and fraudulent cards apart. The advanced security features in ID cards will make them extremely difficult to forge.

Biometric passports
Next year we will be introducing the first generation of more secure biometric passports. The Government does not want British citizens to have ‘second class’ passports and we will be moving towards fingerprint as well as facial image data in passports in the future to keep in step with our European partners. Currently, citizens of EU countries that have a national ID card can use them instead of a passport to travel to the UK. However, UK citizens are still required to carry their passport with them for travel within the EU. The ID card will be a convenient credit card-sized card that can be used to travel in the European Union without a passport. We have never claimed that the Identity Cards scheme will be a ‘silver bullet’ for addressing terrorism and organised crime. However, our citizens will be better protected from the activities of those who use false identities – from those who hide their criminal past to avoid restrictions on working with children through to organised criminals and those who support terrorist activities.
    
Although it will not be compulsory to carry an ID card, the scheme will allow for more efficient use of police resources. Administrative burdens in routine police checks can be reduced where individuals offer their ID card voluntarily as proof of identity. It will also allow the police to check fingerprint biometric information at scenes of crime where no match was found against their own records, helping to bring more offenders to justice. The use of the National Identity Registration Number – the unique number that will be linked to each individual – is a further benefit to the Criminal Justice System. I recently met the Chair of the Bench of my local Magistrates court and we discussed how identity verification was an important aspect of the staff’s work. They agreed that ID cards will help cases can move throughout the system and across various CJS databases via a common key which will provide significant efficiencies in case processing times. For these and many other reasons, I think that now is the right time for ID cards and I look forward to listening to those with constructive suggestions for improving the Bill as it goes through Parliament.

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