ID cards could be used for mass surveillance system
By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent
The Independent, 18 August 2005
The Government is creating a system of “mass public surveillance” capable of tracking every adult in Britain without their consent, MPs say. They warn that people who have never committed a crime can be “electronically monitored” without their knowledge.
Biometric facial scans, which will be compulsory with ID cards, are to be put on a national database which can then be matched with images from CCTV. The database of faces will enable police and security services to track individuals regardless of whether they have broken the law.
CCTV surveillance footage from streets, shops and even shopping centres could be cross-referenced with photographs of every adult in the UK once the ID cards Bill becomes law. Biometric facial scans, iris scans and fingerprints of all adults in the UK will be stored on a national database. Civil liberties groups say the plans are a “dangerous” threat to people’s privacy.
Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the plans were being brought in by the Government without informing the public. “A new system capable of mass public surveillance is being created with no public debate. The arrival of CCTV cameras which can recognise you and track you without your knowledge means we are stepping into an unknown future,” he said.
The monitoring will be possible using the country’s four million CCTV cameras – more than any country in the world. Images could be swiftly cross-referenced with the database.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has said that the “facial images national database should be operational by December 2006”.
The technology is already used by the police to check for offenders, and for football hooligans. Casinos use it to spot VIPs and to check for gamblers they have barred.
The Home Office said the police would only check a person against the National Identity Register to investigate a specific crime. “The police may request information from the National Identity Register without an individual’s consent [or knowledge] if it is necessary for the prevention of further offences or establishing who committed the crime they are investigating,” said a spokeswoman. “An internal authorisation process would operate … so that only officers of a specified rank could apply for information.”