Headlines: February 26th, 2003

The entitlement card scheme looks less likely to go ahead following the launch of a project to examine the feasibility of a population register. Entitlement cards would provide a means of confirming identity and help people gain entitlement to products and services provided by both the public and private sectors. A population register would hold core data such as name, address and date of birth and a unique identifier on UK residents. Its use would be limited to public sector organizations.The population register project is steered by the Treasury, but led by the Office for National Statistics. The team are examining ways of bringing together existing data bases such as those for national insurance and income tax, driver and vehicle owner registers, passport holders, council taxpayers and voters. The remit of the project team is to propose ways in which a once-only data capture process would enable government departments and agencies to have easier access to more accurate core information on citizens that they deal with. Comments on the project can be sent to the team leader mailto:Paul.Allin@ons.gov.uk

Consultation on the entitlement card scheme ended last month and Home Office minister Lord Falconer said that no decisions have yet been taken on whether to continue with the scheme which has raised grave concerns from civil liberty campaigners. He added: “We may not proceed with the scheme and if we do it will take several years.”

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, criticized proposals for entitlement cards because he believes that they are too widely drawn to ensure that adequate safeguards would be in place. Many of his criticisms would also apply to the population register. The quality of existing databases is questionable and there would also be problems of keeping the data up-to-date.