A U.K. group worried about the security of personal data to be collected under a new identity card plan is calling on people to renew their passports in May to avoid being part of the identity card scheme for at least 10 years.
No2ID, a group that has been campaigning against the identity cards, discovered that citizens can renew their passports now regardless of whether or not they are about to expire. Since the national identity register isn't set up yet, renewing now allows them to avoid being included in the database for the 10-year life of the passport.
The group has won the support of political parties including the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, as well as other privacy and civil liberties groups.
No date has been set for when data collected during the passport renewal process will be included in the registrar, a spokeswoman for the U.K. Home Office said. The register is not scheduled to come into effect in 2008, she added.
But No2ID suspects that beginning later this year, the passport office will start collecting and storing data for inclusion in the database when it's up and running, said Phil Booth, national coordinator for No2ID.
The intent of the protest is not to overload the passport service so that it crashes, he said. "This is a very deliberate political act, not one of sabotage."
He hopes that if 20,000 to 50,000 additional people renew their passports in May, the campaign will make its point, and the renewals will happen just as the passport office is ramping up to handle the typically busy summer period.
The Home Office spokesman couldn't say how many passports the office can issue in a month.
The passport and identity card offices are intertwined because the U.K. government decided to use the renewal or application for passports as an opportunity to issue the identity cards and collect personal data. The cards will carry biometric data and store that data and other information about people in a national identity register.
The government says ID card holders will benefit because they'll help protect against identity theft and fraud, and offer a secure mechanism for conducting activities like financial transactions. They'll also be used to confirm eligibility for public services and benefits.
No2ID is concerned not just about the privacy implications of the plan, but also about what happens if technical problems arise. "The consequences of the computer saying 'no' could inconvenience or deny people all sorts of things," Booth said. "What about the pensioner who can't pick up his pension because the ID card doesn't work?"
No2ID began disseminating a document explaining the May renewal plan this week and created a Web site at http://www.renewforfreedom.org, but it hasn't formally launched the program yet. Some U.K. blogs, like Chaotica at chaotica.blogspot.com, have picked up on the movement.