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Identity Theft

Volume 449: debated on Monday 17 July 2006

Identity fraud costs the UK economy at least £1.7 billion each year. We have set up a public-private sector work programme to tackle all aspects of that problem. Our plans for a national identity scheme will also provide people with a highly secure means of protecting their identity.

I am grateful for that answer and for the assistance that the Minister has given me with regard to my constituent, Rev Ted Spiller. In that case, the identity that was required to be supplied by the claimant on applying for redirection of mail was fraudulently used. I understand that she will be having discussions with the Royal Mail, but what precautions does her Department propose to prevent such fraudulent use and abuse of identity and to prevent the spread of identity theft?

I commend the hon. Lady for the work she has done on that issue both with the all-party group on identity fraud and on behalf of her constituent, who was the subject of attempted identity fraud. She will know that we have put extensive advice both on our website and in a leaflet that is available, which explains what to do to try to avoid being a victim, or what to do if you are a victim. On 7 June, we brought into force the offences in the Identity Cards Act 2006, which creates a new criminal offence of being in possession of or controlling false identity documents. Those offences will provide the police with additional means to disrupt the activities of organised criminals, terrorists and those supporting them. I understand that, following my meeting with the Royal Mail, it will contact her constituent to discuss those matters further and to learn from his experience.

A number of things are going on slightly behind the scenes to combat this dreadful crime, which costs the country a huge sum of money both in terms of the impact on our constituents and the cost to the law enforcement agencies. One of those good things is the get safe online website, which seeks to promote some of the basic steps that individuals and businesses should be taking. Will my hon. Friend look at such schemes and at ways in which they can be promoted more widely, for example, by television advertising, so that more people become aware of the important safeguards that they can put in place to protect their own identity?

I will indeed ensure that such actions are co-ordinated. My hon. Friend may find it helpful if I tell him that we have established a network of single points of contact for all police forces and a range of Government Departments and agencies that undertake identity fraud investigations and prosecutions. It is a growing crime. We take it very seriously indeed.

Can the Minister tell us whether she has any words of comfort for the half a dozen or so prominent and wealthy people who were all expecting to receive a new identity following publication of the new year’s honours list, but who now find that their proposed new identities have been grievously snatched away from them? Does she—

One of the most common forms of identity fraud at the moment is perpetrated many thousands of times a day when fraudsters send e-mails to people's inboxes asking them for details of their bank accounts. Many people fall for that phishing expedition. Will the Home Office consider investigating that much more closely, because I suspect that many people are too embarrassed to own up to the fact that they have fallen for that fraud?

The answer is definitely yes. We are aware of that matter and working on it. I am sure that my hon. Friend and the House are aware that identity management and identity cards are an essential component in the fight against identity fraud. Identity cards will allow financial institutions and other companies to carry out high-value, sensitive or personal transactions to confirm their customers’ identity with a high degree of assurance.

Of the earlier variant, scaled-down ID card, David Foord, mission critical director at the Office of Government Commerce, wrote on 8 June that it was driven

“by an arbitrary end date rather than reality”

and he concluded:

“We are setting ourselves up to fail.”

In the light of the continuing card chaos, can the Minister tell us in which year the Home Office will definitely introduce ID cards?

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that we have always made it clear that ID cards will be implemented incrementally. They will be phased in, starting with biometric residence permits for foreign nationals in 2008 and rolling out to UK nationals thereafter. The Government’s commitment is to their rapid introduction. I repeat—2008.

With 88 million personal data records stolen in the last year from Government computer systems in the United States, including 26.5 million army veterans’ records in a single theft, and with reports of civil servants in this country selling hundreds of thousands of records to organised criminals for tax credit fraud, does the Minister agree that holding so much personal information on one single ID card database will—far from dealing with identity theft—be an open invitation to criminals to commit even greater identity fraud?

The hon. Gentleman raises some interesting and important points. He will know that the most important aspect of procurement for ID cards and the ID register database is that we get it and the roll-out right, so that the ID store is safe. We are seeking to move to a procurement timetable. The hon. Gentleman will also know that we have undertaken extensive soundings of the market and received sound advice. I hope to be able to publish our findings shortly and they will give him the reassurance he requires, as well as reveal the widespread public support for the ID card system.

As we are talking about identity theft, I should stress that I am the other David Davis—[Laughter.]

In justifying ID cards, the Government claim that identity fraud costs the clearing banks in the UK Payments Association £504.8 million. The banks say that it costs them less than £37 million. Who is right?

One thing we do know is that ID fraud is a growing crime and a growing threat to the security of people’s identities. It costs the banks a great deal of money. The right hon. Gentleman might be forgetting—I hope that he is not ignoring—the issues of organised crime and terrorism. It is essential that we get an ID card system in place if we are to tackle those scourges that afflict our society. The challenge for the right hon. Gentleman is to tell us what policies he might have to deal with those problems.

I note that I did not get an answer. The Home Office has been accused of exaggerating what ID cards would save by the banks, the insurance companies and even by HM Revenue and Customs, part of their own Government. At best, the project will save little and cost a fortune, but the problem is even worse than that. ID cards are likely to make the problem of identity theft worse, not better—

Microsoft’s National Technology Office says that ID cards could “trigger massive identity fraud”, and one of the FBI’s leading identity fraud consultants said that the ID card could be replicated perfectly by criminals within six months—[Interruption.] I notice that Labour Back Benchers seem to think that they are more expert than Microsoft and the FBI. In order for the House to be sure, can the Minister guarantee that the ID card will be 100 per cent. secure against fraud—yes or no?

The right hon. Gentleman might next blame burglary on burglar alarms. It is a ridiculous contention. Can anybody say that anything is 100 per cent. secure? Opposition Members would have every reason to be sceptical if any Minister made such a claim. ID cards will be a crucial weapon in fighting terrorism, organised crime and identity fraud. The right hon. Gentleman will also know that the information on the card will be kept to a minimum—that which is required. It is biometrics that are so crucial and that will tie a person’s identity, meaning that, by testing the biometrics, we can know with absolute confidence that a person is who they say they are. The right hon. Gentleman needs to look again at what policies he has, or has not, for tackling this most serious matter. He will find that the identity cards programme is a valid and viable way forward, and one that the public of this country welcome and support.