Government appoints first ID commissioner

ID cards

The government has appointed Sir Joseph Pilling as the first ever Identity Commissioner, keeping watch over the controversial ID card scheme and national registry.

The Identity Commissioner role, which was announced last year to help soothe fears over the ID card plans, is modelled on the Information Commissioner position an independent watchdog which has yet to be given much in the way of enforcement powers.

Sir Pilling, who previously worked for the Home Office and held posts as the Director General of HM Prison Service and as the Permanent Under Secretary to the Northern Ireland Office, will start work in the role on 1 October.

In his new role, he'll keep watch on the accuracy and security of the National Identity Register, and make sure the far-reaching database isn't abused by either the public or private sector. He will report annually to the Home Office and to Parliament.

Stressing that Sir Pilling will be independent of the government, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "The Identity Commissioner will champion their interests, providing a strong and independent voice, holding the Identity and Passport Service to account and ensuring information collected under the Service is kept securely."

"He will also deliver independent scrutiny of the uses to which identity cards are put by public authorities and private organisations," he added in a statement.

Sir Pilling echoed that theme. "I am delighted to accept this post, and plan to be an independent voice in my work towards safeguarding the public's privacy and identity rights, as Parliament intended," he said in a statement.

The statements didn't convince Phil Booth, national coordinator of anti-ID card lobby group NO2ID. "The ID Scheme Commissioner is just window-dressing. The role is designed to be toothless and irrelevant. And to appoint a time-served securocrat to the post virtually guarantees that the one power he has - to comment on the Scheme - will never embarrass his former masters."

"How can a man who has spent his entire career being the soul of discretion in various Departments of State be expected to act as a whistleblower?"

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