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Lords voice ID card concerns

Data protection and cost issues

The government's efforts to implement a national ID card programme is facing opposition from the House of Lords, who are demanding a more detailed explanation of its costs and how personal data will be protected.

On Monday, the house passed three amendments to the Identity Cards Bill as peers questioned the Home Office's estimate that the program would cost £584m a year.

If it goes ahead, the card system would require a massive and robust IT system for verifying people's identity and lead to a potentially lucrative cache of long-term vendor contracts. The Home Office says the system would help fight benefit fraud and banking losses and boost antiterrorism efforts.

However, a study last year by the London School of Economics (LSE) estimated that the programme could cost between £10.6bn and £19.2bn over 10 years, greatly exceeding the government's estimates. The school defended the figures in a second report released on Sunday.

The House of Lords easily passed an amendment requiring the government to provide an additional accounting of the costs, despite the Home Office's insistence that it has an adequate costs study from KPMG.

The LSE and the Home Office continue to bicker, with the school claiming that the government released insufficient information to properly measure the programme's costs, and the government saying the LSE's calculation methods are flawed.

Conservative MP Sheila Valerie Noakes, who introduced the cost amendment, said the government has made the ID card proposal "opaque and unsatisfactory".

"The ID scheme is surrounded by secrecy," Noakes said. "We know that the scheme will require large and complex IT systems."

Lawmakers approved a second amendment asserting that a reliable and secure method for storing personal identification should be used. The final, third amendment dictates that ID cards can be used only to prevent illegal or fraudulent access to public services.

The Identity Cards Bill calls for a National Identity Register database that would hold personal information, including biometric details such as iris patterns and fingerprints, with records updated at least once every 10 years. The British government envisions as many as 44,000 private-sector organisations such as banks being linked to the system.


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