Britons Reject ID Cards After Missing Data Scandal

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) – A growing scandal over the government’s loss of the personal data of 25 million British people last week could carry unexpected consequences, according to a poll by Populus published in The Times. 55 per cent of respondents think the incident proves the government would be unable to handle the introduction of smart identification cards and should abandon plans to do so.

In June, Gordon Brown officially became Labour leader and prime minister, replacing Tony Blair. Brown had worked as chancellor of the exchequer. Blair served as Britain’s prime minister since May 1997, winning majority mandates in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections to the House of Commons.

On Nov. 20, chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling announced that compact discs with detailed information on citizens went missing when HM Revenue & Customs was transferring them to another government agency through an unregistered mailing service. Paul Gray, chairman of the agency in question, resigned as a result of the incident. 44 per cent of respondents think Darling should also lose his job over the mishandling of the data, while 40 per cent disagree.

In 2006, the House of Commons approved the Identity Cards Act, effectively creating Britain’s National Identity Register (NIR). The NIR is due to store up to 49 different items on everyone living in the country, including fingerprints, DNA, home address and telephone numbers. The legislation stipulates that, starting on 2009, everybody in Britain will hold a “smart” biometric ID card linked to the national register. The card will be required for access to public services such as doctors’ surgeries, unemployment offices, libraries and others.

On Nov. 27, Dave Hartnett, acting chairman of HM Revenue & Customs, sent out personalized letters of apology to millions of people affected by the data loss. Nigel Evans, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Identity Fraud in Parliament, accused the government of incurring on yet another dangerous practice, saying the letters contain each claimants’ name, address, national insurance and child benefit numbers, which could be used for identity theft.

Evans said that “a million letters go missing every day; there are households of multiple occupation. (…) There are people paid to rummage in people’s bins: they will know that information will be lying in the rubbish over the next few days. Fraudsters can sit on the information for some time so people should check their bank accounts carefully.”

Polling Data

Yesterday, the chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling announced that computer disks containing detailed personal and financial information on 25 million British people had gone missing, after being sent from HM Revenue & Customs to the National Audit Office via an unregistered mail service last month. The Chairman of HM Revenue & Customs has resigned as a result. Please answer the following questions.

Should the chancellor of the exchequer resign, or be sacked, as a result of this incident–which he described as ‘a catastrophic error?

Yes, he should lose his job 44%
No, he shouldn’t lose his job 40%
Don’t know 15%

Some people have said that this incident shows that the government cannot be trusted properly to protect and manage confidential information about people and therefore means that the plans to introduce ID cards must now be abandoned. Do you think that the government should go ahead with its plan for ID cards, or should the idea of introducing ID cards be dropped?

Go ahead with ID cards 29%
Scrap ID cards 55%
Don’t know 15%

Source: Populus / The Times
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,025 British adults, conducted on Nov. 21, 2007. No margin of error was provided.