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February 22, 1989


By CBR Staff Writer

As recently reported (CI No 1,113), Data Protection Registrar Eric Howe is advocating that MPs strengthen the Data Protection Act of 1984 to stop the introduction of a widely usable national identification system. The Act, which is currently under review, ratifies the Council of Europe Convention on Data Protection to secure the individual’s right to privacy with regard to the automatic processing of personal data. Opponents of the Registrar argue that issuing everybody in the UK with a National Identity Card would facilitate policing, the maintenance of national statistical records, and the investigation of benefits fraud. They say it could also lead to the more effective marketing of goods and services, as well as allowing individuals’ finiancial circumstances to be checked before they were offered credit. Providing backing to his argument, the Data Protection Registrar has conducted research that concludes that in October last year 94% of people they questioned regarded personal privacy as very (67%) or quite (27%) important. Those opposed to a voluntary system argue that it would soon grow into a de facto compulsory system, with individuals being treated with suspicion as somehow subversive if they did not carry an identification card. As a safeguard against this eventuality, the Registrar suggests that if a voluntary system is introduced, the cards used should not be machine-readable, and should carry no more than the holder’s name, signature, photograph and whether he or she is over 18 years of age.

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