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UK government draws criticism over ID data-merge plan

Cradle-to-grave 'registration processes' draw comparisons to secret police

By Tash Shifrin
October 12, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld UK - Privacy advocates have slammed government moves to merge the U.K.'s General Register Office, which oversees the registration of births and deaths, into the nation's Identity and Passport Service.

IPS chief executive James Hall said the move would "allow us to explore the possibility of integrating passport, identity card and life event registration processes."

The government plans to give IPS staff online access to births and deaths information which could be cross checked with ID card or passport applications. Data sharing between the two bodies was given a legal basis in July by an order made under section 38 of the Identity Cards Act.

But Phil Booth, national coordinator of the No2ID campaign monitoring the government's ID card and data sharing plans, described the merger as "chilling."

It was "deeply worrying" that the GRO, a "formerly independent agency should be subsumed in this way, with no debate and for no apparent reason other than bureaucratic convenience,' he said.

Birth and death dates might form part of an individual's official identity, but register offices also recorded other information such as details about parents, Booth pointed out.

"The ID program is insinuating itself deeper and deeper into people's lives. This is not so much 'feature creep' as a blatant land-grab of personal identity.

"That an agency which until a little over a year ago was limited to issuing passports is now grabbing control of citizen data from cradle to grave, and openly talks about 'registration of life events,' confirms what NO2ID has said all along. It's not about ID cards, but the creation of a detailed, lifelong government dossier on every person," Booth said.

He added "And that this sits in the dysfunctional and acquisitive culture of the Home Office should certainly make people think twice."

Booth also attacked the inclusion of identity management and data sharing provisions in a set of plans from government departments issued as part of a new Service Transformation Agreement -- one of a plethora of documents released alongside the pre-budget report and comprehensive spending review.

He compared the plans with the surveillance regime instituted by the Stasi secret police force in the former East Germany. "Astonishingly, the stalker state now swaggers out of the shadows expecting a welcome. Presented in the soothing tone of 'customer service', this is an explicit plan for the centralized surveillance of every significant event in every British resident's life -- a modern Stasi."

This article is reprinted by permission from Copyright (c) 2012 Computerworld UK. All rights reserved.
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