Cloned e-passports fiasco renews calls for £4.7bn ID card scheme to be axed

Opposition MPs accused the Government last night of being naive in believing that new microchipped passports would be foolproof against criminals involved in identity theft.

After The Times disclosed that new passports could be cloned and manipulated in minutes and would then be accepted as genuine, MPs also gave warning of serious implications for the security of the Government’s £4.7 billion identity card scheme.

The identity card project, which starts this year when cards are issued to foreign nationals from outside Europe, relies on microchips similar to those cloned in minutes by a computer researcher as part of tests conducted for The Times.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, joined calls for the whole project to be scrapped. “The Government is clearly incapable of creating a criminal-proof gold standard for identity,” he said.

David Davis, who quit as shadow home secretary to fight a by-election on the issue of the growth of the “Big Brother” state, said: “The Government are incredibly naive about this system.

“There will never be a foolproof system, and there will always be an arms race between those who are developing the system and those who want to crack it.

“This is a massive flaw: a loophole the size of Traitor’s Gate. It is also profligate in financial terms, and what we are all being asked to do is give up our freedom and privacy in exchange for a bogus deal on security.”

Opponents of the identity cards said that putting private personal information on a chip in a passport or identity card would make it easier for people to steal a person’s life. Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of the No2ID cards campaign, said: “With an ID card or chipped passport, you’ll never know who’s walking around pretending to be you. The e-passports fiasco illustrates why the National Identity Scheme must be scrapped now.”

The criticisms came as ministers said yesterday that moves by the European Union could also prevent Britain from using airline passenger lists to combat illegal immigration.

The Home Office started collecting records on airline passengers in 2005 and gathers information on an estimated 30 million passenger movements annually. Among the information collected is a traveller’s name, the date of reservation and issue of their ticket, the person’s address and telephone number and payment details.

The EU initiative would require all member states to collect the information, known as passenger name records (PNR) and store it for 13 years. At present Britain is the only EU state with a fully operational PNR system.

However, under the draft EU proposal, PNR data could be collected only for the purposes of “fighting terrorism and organised crime” and not, as Britain does, for tackling serious crime and for immigration control.

A House of Lords report gives warning that if the Government fails to persuade the EU to allow the gathering and sharing of the data for immigration control reasons, it is faced with the difficult decision of opting out of the deal.Yesterday’s response to the Lords EU select committee report also revealed that the Government is powerless to collect PNR-style data on travellers who arrive in Britain by coach.