A minor, barely noticed consultation is not the way to make a major change to Scottish citizens’ privacy and their relationship with the state. Under a change to the Scottish NHS customer database, the Scottish Government will turn the database into a national register of Scottish citizens and their address, linked to a unique number assigned to each person—much as Labour intended to do with ID Cards.
In Scotland, too, the system comes with an identity card system, assigns each person a unique identifier and will link each person’s activity in each Scottish ministry, service and local council where the system is used. The intention is, of course, to roll it out everywhere.
The threats were well-recognised when this was debated in the UK, in the Labour ID Cards days, and rejected by the SNP. The problems then included potentially high administrative costs, but more importantly it isn’t always a good idea to have the state be able to see into all of your life, at any time, with little thought. The temptation to provide “tailored services” by checking your education, benefits and criminal records, for instance, will be very high. Will this kind of change benefit people?
There is an assumption in government that richer, more intrusive data sets will create benefits. Yet this is unproven, and it is equally easy to imagine that data will be used to stigmatise individuals, or further “target” state attention. It could undermine social cohesion by incentivising excessive ‘means testing’ where the state feels it knows so much about you, it need only target those it profiles as ‘at risk’ and can remove benefits from anyone outside of its risk profile. Law enforcement may see the data as a potential honeypot.
An ID register for all government services, whether you oppose it or not, will quite obviously fundamentally change the relationship of citizen and state.
The bare minimum should be for the Scottish Government to introduce primary legislation whereby the public and MSPs can debate the nature of these changes and whether they are acceptable.
Somehow the scheme has been gradually built for nine years without any serious democratic debate. For a number of years, people born in Scotland have been assigned unique identifiers at registration of their birth, or when being assigned “Entitlement Cards”. The “Entitlement Cards” are always linked to your unique identifier (Unique Citizen Reference Number). Now a single database, created from the NHS data, is proposed to map your number and name to an address, which is accessible to every Scottish public body.
On most counts, the system is exactly the same as the UK ID Cards system. The only substantial difference is the lack of biometrics. If you want a full idea of the problems, you can read our consultation response.
Take action: write to your MSP and the Scottish Government
The Scottish Government is running a consultation on the scheme and we want to tell them that they should put a stop to their plans. We need the Scottish parliament to debate the policy from start to finish.