The resurrection of ID cards coming your way.
Campaigners alarmed after ministers quietly publish plans they say echo doomed ID card scheme
Privacy and civil rights campaigners have urged the Scottish government to drop plans for a new identity database which could allow public bodies, including tax authorities, to share every adult’s private data.
Scottish ministers have been accused of introducing a central database by stealth after civil servants quietly published plans to expand an NHS register to cover all residents and share access with more than 100 public bodies, including HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Public consultation on the proposal, which has faced intense opposition in the Scottish parliament after the scale and reach of the project came to light, ended on 25 February.
Critics claim the plans for the wholesale use in Scotland of the unique citizen reference number (UCRN) were extremely similar to the national ID card proposals by the UK Labour government, which were dropped on privacy and civil rights grounds after the coalition took office in 2010.
Alarm grew after it emerged the NHS register, which covers about 30% of Scottish residents and is also used to get a youth entitlement card and a pensioners’ travel card, was linked to a new Scottish income tax database being set up by HMRC.
HMRC has found it harder than expected to identify every Scottish-resident taxpayer for the new Scottish income tax system, which comes into force in April 2016 as Holyrood’s tax powers increase. The database would be used to find taxpayers missed using current HMRC records.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group (ORG), said the central database could allow officials in different agencies to access personal data and allow data mining and profiling in future.
The ORG said it was striking that the proposals were not being treated as primary legislation and debated fully in the Scottish parliament.
The Scottish plans appeared to have ignored the privacy problems raised by Labour’s ID card scheme and the latest best practice, even though the UK Cabinet Office was acting to address them, Killock said.
Because so many government services, including tax and social security payments, now needed to be accessed online, the UK government plans to employ an outside agency to verify a person’s identity securely and privately before they use a government website.
After about 200 supporters of the ORG challenged the plans in the consultation, Killock said: “The Scottish government should reject these proposals and review their entire identity and data sharing systems to safeguard the privacy of the Scottish people.”
The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), the umbrella group for Scotland’s charities, said it would be pressing the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to abandon the proposals. It raised the very real risk of a massive data breach if an official lost a laptop or a database was hacked, undermining trust in public services, said Ruchir Shah, SCVO’s head of policy and research.
“We are concerned that [the] Scottish government is being hoodwinked into a proposal that suits public sector agencies but creates the conditions for a scandal waiting to happen,” Shah said.
After tabling a motion opposing the plans in Holyrood, Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said it was still unclear how much the database would cost or how it would be policed.
“Anyone with a liberal bone in their body will find the SNP’s super ID database plans worrying,” he said. “Expanding access to the central register to 120 public bodies and assigning each person with a unique reference number would be intrusive, costly and would increase the power of the over-mighty state.”
Prof Alan Miller, chairman of the Scottish human rights commission, said it would closely monitor this project using its statutory powers to ensure it complied with the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights.
“The increased digitalisation of data, including across public services, brings with it a need to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect our human rights,” Miller said.
“We will monitor any expansion of the NHS central register to ensure that the apparent safeguards for protecting human rights contained in the current proposals are implemented adequately and are robust in practice.”
Margaret Curran, the shadow Scottish secretary, said the proposal was in keeping with a new culture of centralisation and secrecy by Scottish ministers. “If the SNP government pushes ahead with this proposal, [it] will be entering uncharted territory. Our NHS records have never been used to decide who pays tax, and it is not used for that purpose anywhere else in the UK,” she said.
The Scottish government confirmed the extended database would be used to identify taxpayers for HMRC, help trace children “missing within the education system” and allowed streamlined access to online government services.
A spokeswoman insisted, however, that the UK government’s approach of using a third party for secure verification service had been rejected.
“We have an unequivocal commitment to protecting and respecting individuals’ privacy and will respond to the consultation adhering to that,” she said.
“In England, verification of identity for online services is being handled by private companies under contract to the UK government. We do not agree with this private sector approach. In Scotland, we have consulted on extending our existing approach to the central government sector.
“If we take these proposals forward, data provided by individuals to service providers would be verified against a trusted existing source managed by the public sector.”
And so it begins. First we had centralisation of all public services. Next, they bring in state guardians to oversee the upbringing of Scotland’s children that can override parents, and writes fathers out of the picture, and now we have a state ID Database.
- Why would CalMac need access to my health records?
- Why would Quality Meat Scotland need access to your tax records?
- Why would the NHS need to know if you’re a member of the botanical gardens?
- Why has it’s name been changed to the “Population Database”?
- Why is everyone getting a “Unique Citizen Reference Number”?
This IS an ID database, exactly what the snp campaigned against when Westminster wanted to do it. The only difference is no plastic card. But that would be quietly pushed through later no doubt.