Sunday, 20 Sep 2020

Downing Street to hoard masses of citizens’ data with ID cards plan – fears for privacy

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People will be able to use the online identity for regular activities, such as proving their age, registering with a GP and buying properties from a different location. Details are yet to be confirmed but legislation could be amended to remove the need for landlords to check tenants’ immigration documents. The introduction of the new system would come after the Government encountered several problems when identifying people during the coronavirus pandemic, such as during the self-employment income support scheme.

Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez said: “There is a need and an expectation for the Government to make it easier for people to use digital identities quickly, safely and securely, and we are committed to enabling this.”

Felicity Burch, director of innovation at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which speaks for 190,000 businesses in the UK, supports a new framework based on “privacy, transparency and interoperability”.

But the introduction of digital ID cards has triggered fears about how much citizens’ data and privacy can be protected.

Matthew Rice of the Open Rights Group, which works to preserve digital rights and freedoms said: “If the public don’t trust that their data is going to be secure, they are not going to engage with the system no matter how seamless or frictionless.

“If the Government thinks that this is a cool thing to do from their new control centre that Dominic Cummings has created, they will just create another system that doesn’t actually look to the needs of citizens.”

Gavin Freeguard, head of data and transparency at the Institute for Government, said: “We’ve seen with the contact-tracing app and the A-level algorithm that the Government really needs to earn the public’s trust.”

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Mr Cummings has long been hugely critical of data privacy laws, and in a blog post in 2018, described the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation as “a legal and bureaucratic nightmare”.

The Government has increasingly relied on the private sector to manage the public of British citizens.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Westminster began sharing patient information with companies as part of its NHS COVID-19 data store, which was used to assess hospital bed capacity and the distribution of vital ventilators.

Companies awarded contracts included Palantir, founded by the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, and Faculty, the artificial intelligence company that worked with Mr Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign.

Ben Warner, who is currently the head of Downing Street’s data unit, has worked for Faculty, while his brother Marc Warner is its chief executive.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has also previously thrown his support behind the use of digital ID cards for British citizens.

Speaking at the virtual CogX technology conference in June, he said: “You can create a digital ID today that is much more easily protected so you can deal with a lot of the privacy and surveillance issues that worry people.

“It is a natural evolution of the way that we are going to use technology in any event to transact daily life and this COVID crisis gives an additional reason for doing that.

“I think people’s disease status – have they been tested, what is the result of that test and have they had the disease, do they have the disease – unless you are able to record some of this data in a way people can use, it is going to be difficult to go back to anything like a near normal in things like transport.

“If you are going to start international travel again, how can you do that unless people can be easily tested and have some record of that test?

“There has always been a good case for introducing some form of digital ID but I think that case is even more powerful today.

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