New database increases power of surveillance

More than half the population supports the Government’s controversial identity card scheme, according to a survey for the Home Office.

Sixty-one per cent of people agree strongly or slightly with the £5.75 billion scheme, with 20 per cent disagreeing strongly or slightly. The number of people unhappy with the project because they believe it would infringe their personal freedom has fallen.

More than 2,000 people over 16 were interviewed. The researchers found that the number of people who believe that the scheme will prevent illegal immigration has jumped from 23 per cent to 32 per cent. Just 16 per cent of people believe it will prevent fraud.

The research, the most recent available, was carried out before HM Revenue and Customs lost two CDs containing the personal details of 25 million people.

The scheme is one of three huge projects that will allow the Government to keep a closer check on citizens. The national identity register will contain individuals’ full names, other names by which they have been known, date of birth, place of birth, gender, the address of principal residence in the United Kingdom and the address of every other place in Britain or elsewhere where they have a place of residence and nationality. A separate database will contain fingerprints and a person’s photograph.

Two national databases are also underway: the NHS Care Records Service and the Children’s Database.

Connecting for Health will involve uploading medical records for more than 50 million patients on to an online database, allowing information to be shared among health care professionals. The NHS Care Records Service will contain a limited amount of essential information that can be combined with locally held care information. Patients will mostly be identified by summary care records containing only a few personal details. Their full medical history will only be available to doctors involved in their treatment using chip-and-PIN cards, which require a six-digit code to access some parts of the system.

In September a national children’s database is due to be set up containing the details of every child in England and Wales. Ministers say that details on all families are needed so that children’s services can contact one another. Details held will include names, addresses, schools, GP details, and other services involving each child.

Town hall officials, charity workers and even careers advisers will have access to the database, along with doctors, social workers and teachers.

The decision to set up the database was made after the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié in 2000, which uncovered communication problems between schools, social workers and GPs.

Existing databases hold huge amounts of information on citizens. One of the biggest is the Department for Work and Pensions customer information system, which holds about 85 million records, including the personal details of anyone with a national insurance number. It has the full income and personal details of anyone in receipt of benefits, including 11.5 million with state pensions, 2.65 million on incapacity benefits and 4 million who claim either pension credit or income support.

A database at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency holds the names, addresses, driving licence and vehicle details of 42 million drivers.

The Passport Agency has the records of 80 million passports issued, including the 47 million that are currently valid. It holds names, addresses, date and place of birth of applicants.

Revenue & Customs holds the names and addresses of six million people who make tax credit claims, the names, addresses and national insurance and salary details of the 30.5 million people who pay income tax and the details of 25 million people who receive child benefit.

Losing streak

September 2007 GMRC lost a CD with national insurance and pension details of 15,000 people
October Laptop containing data on 2,000 ISA-holders stolen
November Two CDs with details of 25 million people lost in post
December Four CDs with court case details missing; laptop with data of 60,000 people stolen from Citizens Advice Bureau; details of three million learner-drivers lost; data on 6,500 pension-holders lost
January 2008 Laptop containing details of 600,000 people stolen; details of 1,500 students lost

Source: Times database