THE government’s controversial ID card plans are ‘hugely risky’ according to a legal expert.
Manchester will be the first city where citizens will be invited to apply for an ID card from this autumn, ahead of the national roll-out in 2012.
As part of the two-year trial over-16s with a valid UK passport can apply online for a card and then attend a government office for fingerprinting, photographs and a possible interview.
Announcing the pilot scheme yesterday, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith also outlined plans for chemists and post offices to be used as enrolment centres.
But the plans were savaged as unworkable by opposition politicians and a leading data law expert.
IT law expert Susan Hall, a partner at city law firm Cobbetts, has spent 20 years specialising in keeping large companies and organisations on the right side of data protection laws.
She said the scheme had several pitfalls.
She said: “The main problem is that it is such a huge scheme and government IT projects have a track record of going over budget and having severe problems.
“No database is foolproof. You just have to look at cases where MI5 computers have been left on trains. There is a huge risk because it is so easy to carry large amounts of information on portable media. Fingerprints are not like a pin number – they can’t be changed if the information is leaked.
“There is also a risk that people will misuse or sell the information or that other agencies will misuse it. We’ve already had local authorities going beyond their powers to use surveillance in cases of dog fouling. I think there is great potential for people’s personal data being misused.”
Ms Hall also said high street stores would have to clear several legal hurdles before being allowed to collect the sensitive information needed for the scheme.
Local Lib Dems, including the leaders of Stockport, Oldham and Rochdale councils, put out statements opposing the trial.
Withington Lib Dem MP John Leech commented: “I wouldn’t sign up even if they were free, but at a time when everyone is feeling the pinch, who in their right mind is going to pay to sign up for an ID card?”
People will be charged £30 to get the cards – which will contain fingerprint information and personal details and can be used instead of a passport for travel in Europe.
Legislation clearing the way for identity cards was passed in 2006, but MPs will need to make a further vote for the cards to become compulsory.
The Post Office and a national pharmacy association which represents Boots and Snappy Snaps are in talks with the Home Office to open up ‘public-friendly’ registration centres in stores – although they would not take part in the Manchester trial.
However, it is understood that preliminary registration trials have already been taking place the Manchester office of the Identity and Passport Office on Portland Street. Estimates of the predicted costs of implementing the scheme have soared to more £5bn.
Thousands of airside workers at Manchester airport were last year told that they must sign up to the ID card scheme as part of their conditions of employment.
Unions and airline pilots are opposing the trial scheme, which is also happening at London’s City airport.