The Policy Exchange think tank has recommended that the identity scheme that the Government is rolling out for EU nationals should be extended to UK citizens.
ID cards, which would have been used to identify a person to authorities through biometric data, were in the works in the late 2000s, under the then-incumbent Labour government. It eventually failed and was scrapped by the Conservatives in 2010 amidst concerns about privacy.
Attitudes towards data-sharing have changed in the ensuing decade, says Policy Exchange, largely thanks to the widespread use of smartphones and social media. The Government is working on a system now that will identify and record the status of the estimated 3.6 million EU nationals permanently living in the UK.
‘The identity management experiment for EU citizens remaining in the UK after Brexit should be a prototype for a national system', write report authors David Goodhart and Richard Norrie. A similar system ‘would have prevented the harassment of the Windrush victims' by recording their immigration status in a secure database.
The Government is beta-testing the system now, and it will be rolled out later this year. According to the report, EU citizens will be assigned ‘pre-settled' or ‘settled' status, depending on how long they have already lived in the UK; this will be linked to a digital database and reference number that is unique to each citizen.
The ‘EU Citizens Number', based on an identifying document like a passport, would secure the person's rights and access to public services in the UK.
According to Policy Exchange, the scheme uses various technical innovations: for example, ‘for many EU citizens who have worked and paid taxes in the UK the process of proving their residency and duration of time spent in the UK will be largely automated via a direct connection between the Home Office's settlement system and databases held by HMRC on tax filings made by EU citizens'.
The previous ID scheme failed because of data privacy, and those concerns are being taken into account.
Citizens' data will be stored in Tier 3 data centres owned and operated by the Home Office, and registered users will be able to change their own information as needed. However, the data will not be stored as a single file; instead, it is tied to an anonymised reference number assigned to each user.
When a citizen wants to prove their identity - for example, to apply for a job or mortgage - they log onto the system using some biometric data, like a passport number and a selfie to compare with stored records. They are then sent a four-digit code that companies or government bodies can use to verify their status without being able to view personal details.
Although the scheme is being developed both to ensure the rights of settled EU nationals and crack down on illegal immigration, ‘The EU identity scheme should be seen as a trial run for a scheme that could include UK citizens too', said Goodhart and Norrie.
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