U.K.'s Blair tries to allay fears over ID card database

He threatened jail time for anyone who tampers with the data

U.K. Prime Minster Tony Blair moved to quell growing concern over the security of the country's national identity program by threatening jail time for anyone caught tampering with the project's massive database.

Anyone found guilty of tampering with the database will face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, and anyone involved in ID card administration who improperly discloses information could be hit with a two-year sentence, Blair said today at his monthly news conference in London.

The Identity Cards Bill, published today, seeks to create by 2010 a system of ID cards with embedded chips that carry personal information and biometric identifiers. The information will include name, address and biometric information such as fingerprints, facial scans and iris scans, all of which will be included in the database.

Blair said that the biometric ID cards would be a powerful weapon in the government's fight against terrorism, identity fraud, illegal workers, illegal immigration and illegal use of government entitlement programs such as the National Health System. But he acknowledged that the system would not be a "silver bullet."

"We know false identities are important to terrorists and criminals because of the frequency [with which] they use them," Blair said, adding that of the 6.4 million people recorded on the U.K.'s police criminal records database, "over a quarter have an alias."

But as security experts have pointed out, the police criminal records database is known to be riddled with inaccuracies. Ovum Ltd. analyst Graham Titterington warned that the government doesn't appear to have learned its lessons from various IT projects, such as the criminal records database. The Identity Cards Bill lacks measures to ensure the accuracy of the data being entered or allow individuals to check their information in the database, according to Titterington.

Beginning next year, U.K. passports will include biometric facial identifiers. The ID card program will then receive the information and technology. The U.K. government hopes to make carrying the ID card compulsory for everyone living in the country by 2011 or 2012.

Though a number of countries, including Belgium, Sweden and Latvia, have ID cards with databases of information, they are used on a much smaller scale than the U.K.'s proposal and are primarily related to accessing government e-services.

"I believe this is responsible government, not, as some have called it, 'Big Brother government,'" Blair said. "It is responsible to do what we can to enhance security and ensure that public services are only used by those who are actually entitled to use them."

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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