Police chief questions ID card scheme

SUFFOLK'S most senior policeman last night questioned whether controversial ID cards would be the solution to major crime - saying they could become the “gold standard” for hackers.

SUFFOLK'S most senior policeman last night questioned whether controversial ID cards would be the solution to major crime - saying they could become the “gold standard” for hackers.

The Government could make the cards compulsory from around 2010 in a bid to crack down on terrorism and organised crime - but Suffolk's Acting Chief Constable Colin Langham-Fitt has voiced his doubts over their use.

He called for a full debate over the creeping increase in surveillance, saying people needed to take a “step back” to assess whether it made them feel comfortable and safer.

But he warned ID cards could even change the relationship between the police and the community, if officers are seen as “agents of the state”.

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Mr Langham-Fitt, who stressed his comments were his personal views and not those of Suffolk police, said ID cards could become prime targets for hackers, who could pay huge amounts to clone them or break into the data-holding system.

He added: “They could become the gold standard of ID crime. It could raise the standards and stakes for those who wish to clone them or subvert the system.”

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The risk was that they would be “oversold” as a solution to major crime, which could lead to “defences being let down”, he said.

“There should be a debate about the ongoing erosion of civil liberties in the name of the fight against terrorism and the fight against crime,” Mr Langham-Fitt said.

“Are we all happy to have our cards monitored wherever we go, to be on CCTV and to have our shopping tracked? With all this surveillance available, the question needs to be asked - are we happy with that? Does it make us feel better and safer?

“I haven't got the answers but I would welcome the debate - a debate beyond the clichéd response of 'if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about'.”

He added: “Every measure like this is going to impinge on civil liberties. The debate has to be had - are these sensible precautions in a dangerous world or are we reacting to things in the belief they will solve them but at the end of the day they might not have any impact.”

The police chief spoke out after he attended the Government IT Summit and last night opponents of the ID card scheme welcomed his comments.

Andrew Watson, East Anglian co-ordinator for the NO2ID campaign, said: “The (Acting) Chief Constable's comments are another nail in the coffin of the government's insane ID scheme.

“Government computer projects have a dreadful security record, and forcing us all to put precious personal identification data on a government-run database is a recipe for disaster.”

An identity and passports spokesperson at the Home Office said: “The Security Services and the police have said that an ID card will help in the fight against terrorism and we trust the judgements of those people whose job it is to fight terrorists.

“An ID card will reduce the opportunity for those facilitating terrorist and organised criminals to operate using multiple identities.

“The National Identity Scheme would also be a useful tool in helping to monitor and disrupt the support activities of terrorist networks.

“In cases of serious crime or threats to national security, the scheme will provide, subject to appropriate authorisation procedures, the capability for law enforcement and intelligence and security agencies to be provided with information on when a person's record on the National Identity Register has been checked or amended.”

The introduction of ID cards will start in 2009, and from 2010 anyone renewing or getting a passport will have to get one.

If Labour wins the next election, it will make them compulsory for all UK citizens over 16 whether they have a passport or not.

The cards will hold basic information as well as details of a person's fingerprints or iris or facial scans.

When the issuing starts, people will have to go to their local passport office to be photographed and fingerprinted. Background checks will be carried out to confirm identities before the passport and ID card are issued.

It will cost £30 for a standalone ID card. Ministers say it will cost an estimated £93 to produce a combined passport and identity card.

But the fees people will have to pay for those in practice have not yet been set. The elderly and those on low incomes could pay reduced rates.

However, experts believe the total cost of the scheme could be three times the government's estimate.

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