Watchdog challenges ID card database accuracy

The government was warned last week that it will have to ensure that the 67 million records collected to run its proposed...

The government was warned last week that it will have to ensure that the 67 million records collected to run its proposed national identity card scheme, are significantly more accurate than the best existing government databases, if it is to avoid breaching data protection principles.

Laying down a challenge to the Home Office, information commissioner Richard Thomas said the government would have to ensure the proposed central register, which will be used to verify the identity data, is more accurate than the existing gold standard for identity, the passport system.

Thomas pointed to the case of pensioner Derek Bond, who was arrested and jailed while on holiday in South Africa earlier this year, when the FBI mistook him for a suspected criminal of the same name, as an example of the sort of problem that could arise if government databases are inaccurate.

The information commissioner said it was vital for the proposed ID card database to be more accurate than the current passport system as a means of verifying identity. "The accuracy of the database is really fundamental," he said. "It really has to have attained at least the gold standard of the Passport Agency.

"The Home Office has admitted there are problems with passports, such as forged identity. The concern would be whether the ID card database would be sufficiently accurate."

David Rippon, author of a paper on the technology behind ID cards, said the accuracy of the government database would depend on putting secure human systems in place to record data, and on the ability of the computer systems to identify duplicate biometric records, which could indicate fraud.

"The biggest biometric database I am aware of is a few thousand entries. The government database is 67.5 million. The question is how long will it check for duplicate identities," he said.

The information commissioner will focus more closely on public sector bodies and monopolies in the future, as part of a plan to refocus the watchdog's activities on areas where there is less commercial and political pressure to comply with data protection, Thomas said.

Cutting red tape

Information commissioner Richard Thomas has announced plans to sweep away some of the red tape faced by organisations attempting to comply with the UK's complex data protection laws.

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