To support the motion that will be debated in Glasgow City Council this week, a slightly slimmed-down version of the standard briefing document for councillors has been produced. This version fits on 3 pages.
What is the National Identity Scheme?
Identity cards are not just about a card that people carry to prove their identity. Identity cards are just the public face of the National Identity Register (NIR) – a database of the entire UK population that will include approximately 50 categories of “registrable fact” on everyone in the country. These facts range from a person’s name and all their home addresses to biometric fingerprints and iris scans. The database is effectively an index to all official and quasi-official records, with cross-referencing and an audit trail of all checks made against the register by government, businesses, voluntary organisations and employers. This means the register will be the key to a person's total life history, with personal details retained forever in one vast, centralised system.
Why does the National Identity Scheme matter to local government?
The identity scheme will have a huge affect on the lives of your constituents and how the council is run. With an estimated 80% of citizen contact with the state occurring through local authorities , the council will be at the forefront of the implementation and use of ID cards and the NIR. How local councils react to this can have a major impact on its implementation and its effects on everyday life.
ID cards will be required as a gateway to local services
Although the Identity Cards Act 2006 specifically prohibits organisations making the presentation of an identity card a condition for receiving a free service, once the scheme is operational, it is likely that councils will come under pressure to use the system as one way of proving the identity of those using council services. By using identity cards in this way, councils will be signing up to a centralised system, with new levels of bureaucracy and significant implementation costs. The use of the scheme and the register is likely to seep into every interaction between citizens and local government, from benefits, council tax and social services to licensing, housing, electoral services and libraries.
Participating in the ID scheme will carry a large financial cost
The Westminster Government has produced no estimates for how much it will cost local government to integrate with the national identity scheme. Each council that does will have to buy equipment to check ID cards. Each point of contact between the council and public will need terminals to do this checking. The Home Office has given a conservative estimate of the cost of just one terminal - £250 to £750 . These units and its connections to council systems and to the NIR will also have to be maintained, serviced, calibrated, and kept secure.
There will also be the need to design and implement new IT systems and rewrite existing software so that these units can be integrated into the council. New operating procedures and bureaucracy will be required. Staff will need training on the use of the new equipment and systems. Plus there are likely to be substantial charges levied by the Identity and Passport Service for checking citizens’ details against the register.
The Westminster Government has also made it clear that it will likely be local councils and not central government that will have to pay these costs.
People in council care will have to register
Vulnerable people in the care of social services who depend upon the council for assistance, will all need to register for an ID card. People who are unable to register themselves will rely on councils’ help to fill in forms and be transported to and from registration centres to have their biometrics, photo and details taken. If this is not done, these people will be fined. Councils will also have to help these people to keep this information up to date or else these people will be fined. All this will require additional council bureaucracy as well as costing time and money.
Councils will be buying a system that doesn’t work
All these costs on the council will pay for a system that is highly unlikely to work. The UK Computing Research Committee, an expert panel made of members from the British Computer Society, the Institution of Electrical Engineers and the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing, has stated :
“We have deep scepticism about the Home Office’s ability to specify, procure and implement a national, software intensive system on the scale that would be necessary…Again and again, major public-sector IT projects overrun and are cancelled, or fail to deliver the expected benefits; recent examples include systems at Post Offices, the Passport Office, the Courts, and the Child Support Agency.”
The biometric technology that is supposed to make ID cards impossible to forge is far from perfect. A Cabinet Office study on identity fraud found that :
“Biometric systems are by no means foolproof: all types of biometric systems currently available run the risk of reporting ‘false positives’ or ‘false negatives’, around 10-15% of ‘genuine’ people will fail the test if it is set to minimise the numbers of fraudulent people let through.”
The Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Commission for Racial Equality have both noted research showing biometric scanning is less effective for some ethnic minorities . Council’s legal liability is unclear
The Secretary of State is empowered to require a third party to provide information about an individual for the purposes of verifying information on the NIR. Such orders are likely to be imposed on councils and there will be an administrative cost to councils in responding to requests for information. It is unclear to what extent a council would be liable to the Secretary of State for inadvertently providing incorrect information, or what the liability of a council will be to its citizens if it submits information to the NIR which was inaccurate. It is also unclear what the legal liabilities of a local authority would be if it relied on information from the NIR to make a decision about a citizen and this information was wrong. ID cards will cost your constituents money
At current Home Office estimates, the additional tax burden of the ID Scheme will be £200 per person. The direct price of an ID card will be £30 and a combined passport and ID card package will be £93, and any difference will be met from other charges or from penalties. The costs to local authorities and other users of the scheme outside the Home Office will need to be met from increases in general taxation, or funds diverted from services. These costs are likely to be most felt by those on low incomes. ID cards will affect race relations
The Local Government Association, Citizens Advice Bureau and Commission for Racial Equality have all noted that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by police stop and searches . The concern is that ID cards will make this situation worse, and provide a mechanism or pretext for discriminatory checks on immigration status. According to the Local Government Association :
“There will be a risk of increasing tension in communities if it does become common practice, (despite the intention that it should not), for people to be asked to produce their cards on demand.”
The Commission for Racial Equality has also noted  that:
“It is possible that the patterns of differential treatment found in police stop and searches would be replicated in service provision and recruitment procedures. Specifically, that Black and Ethnic Minority individuals are more likely to be asked to prove identity or entitlement to services.”ID cards will hit the socially excluded and vulnerable the hardest
The Metropolitan Police has stated  that:
“The scheme could become compulsory prematurely for those disadvantaged members of society, because they would have to have an ID Card in order to access Social Security Benefits, etc. It should also be noted that many of the visible ethnic minorities are over-represented in this socio-economically deprived group. We have severe reservations that the scheme could add to tensions at a time when the police service is investing greatly in gaining confidence across all communities.”
The British Medical Association has noted that these socially excluded groups are already among the least likely to access public services effectively and that the need to register and hold an ID card could operate as an additional disincentive to accessing vital services . The most vulnerable, and often poorest, in society will also be affected most by the requirement to keep information on the NIR such as address details up to date and by the fines if they fail to do this. The Law Society has stated  that they:
“…fear that those who are most vulnerable are most likely to be affected by failure to provide up to date information. This could include people with chaotic lifestyles such as those suffering mental illness or addictions; people with complex or frequently-changing personal information; homeless people; older people; immigrants and asylum seekers; and individuals fleeing domestic violence situations who may fear disclosing their information.”ID cards will not prevent terrorism
Random outrages can’t be stopped by an ID card and competent terrorists will find a way to subvert the system. As the Bar Council stated :
“The Spanish compulsory identity card scheme included biometrics but did not prevent the Madrid train bombing.” ID cards will not prevent illegal working
The ID Card Scheme will do little to prevent immigrants working illegally or unscrupulous employers hiring them. As the Law Society put it :
“Employers who are currently willing to employ people illegally, without National Insurance Cards, are likely to continue employing people illegally without identity cards…”
ID cards will not prevent benefit fraud
Only a limited amount of benefit fraud is committed through identity fraud. Of the £2 billion annual benefit fraud bill, only £50 million is estimated to come from identity fraud . Most benefit fraud involves false circumstances, for instance, employment status or medical condition.
Local governments are already opposing the ID scheme
Councillors from across the political spectrum have decided it is best for their constituents if their councils are not involved in the ID scheme unless required to do so by law. You can find a list of these 31 councils at http://www.no2id.net/resources/motions/index.php
 CIP and Local Government, General Register Office, Citizen Information Project, 16 November 2004, 2.ii.
 Home Office Response to the London School of Economics’ ID Cards Cost Estimates & Alternative Blueprint, July 2005
 UK Computing Research Committee submission, para. 1.5, 4 January 2004.
 Cabinet Office, Identity Fraud: A Study, p 61, July 2002.
 The Institute of Electrical Engineers response to Legislation on Identity Cards: A Consultation, 19 July 2004. Commission for Racial Equality, Identity Cards Bill, House of Lords, para. 30, p 8, January 2006.
 Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, para. 18, January 2004. Home Office, Identity Cards Bill, Race Equality Impact Assessment, para. 98, 25 May 2005. Commission for Racial Equality, Identity Cards Bill, House of Lords, para. 7, p 3, January 2006.
 Commission for Racial Equality, Identity Cards Bill, House of Lords, para. 8, pg. 3, January 2006.
 Quoted in House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Identity Cards, Fourth Report of Session 2004-2004, Volume 1, HC 130-1, para. 139, p 38.
 Law Society response to Legislation on Identity Cards: A Consultation, para. 4.37, July 2004.
 The Bar Council, Law Reform Committee Response to the Home Office Consultation on Legislation on Identity Cards, para. 2.1 and 2.2.1, July 2004.
 Law Society response to Legislation on Identity Cards: A Consultation, para. 3.32, July 2004.
 House of Commons Library, The Identity Cards Bill, Research Paper 05/43, p 42, 13 June 2005.