By Keith Miller of thePublican.com's team of legal experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson.
After hearing evidence from the private and public sector, on July 30 the Home Affairs Select Committee gave a cautious backing to the government's plan to introduce national identity cards. However, members of the committee expressed concern that the plan lacks clarity in its practical operation. In relation to tackling illegal working, it reported that the ID card scheme needs wider enforcement measures, including action against culpable employers.
The committee recommends that the Proceeds of Crime Act be used to seize profits made from the employment of illegal labour. As profits from crime contaminate "legitimate" profits, the licensed trade should take this threat very seriously.
The committee has also asked the government to clarify "what will be expected from the employer, including whether presentation of a card by a job applicant is enough or whether an employer would have to check the biometrics or authenticity of the card".
Importantly for the industry, some witnesses appearing before the committee expressed concern that inappropriate demands will be made to produce ID cards. A remark made by the information commissioner in relation to local video shops should be heeded as it could just as easily apply to the licensed trade. He considered that it would be "disproportionate and unacceptable" for a video shop to insist upon production of an identity card and called for "appropriate restrictions" to be included in the legislation.
The committee members' view is that people may "choose to use identity cards voluntarily on an extensive basis" but that until made compulsory "there should be effective restrictions on inappropriate demands for them".
On the whole the committee supports the government's plan to introduce national identity cards and believes "it will make a real and important contribution to fighting organised crime and terrorism". Nevertheless, it readily accepts that the full benefits of the scheme will not be realised until it is made compulsory. We shall have to wait until at least 2013 for this - although the first ID cards carrying biometric data will appear from 2007.
ID cards, it seems, are edging ever closer to reality. The committee has made it clear it will not be ruled out on the grounds of principle alone.