Revealed: Britons to be asked for NI number, date of birth and signature to get right to vote
Written by Christopher Hope, Whitehall Editor Monday, 25 January 2010 17:10
Electoral administrators said they were concerned that the extra information could be made available to people who purchase copies of the electoral register.
The new requirement for people to provide additional “personal identifiers” when they register to vote has been brought in by the Government to cut down on voter fraud at local and general elections.
Currently returning officers only require an adult at an address to certify that the people living in the household are over 18 and can vote.
However, after July electoral registration officers will be able to ask all householders to hand over three “personal identifiers “ - their signatures, dates of birth and NI numbers - as part of a new
"individual elector registration" (IER) scheme, along with names and addresses.
There are fears that this could be expanded to include identity cards and even people’s finger-prints because of a special allowance in the legislation used to bring in the change. The new way of registering to vote could be compulsory within five years. A briefing note from the Electoral Commission says: “IER is expected to replace the current practices of household and rolling registration by July 2015”.
There are already concerns about the plans. The Association of Electoral Administrators suggested that some of the extra information could be sold to anyone who buys copies of the electoral register.
John Turner, the association’s chief executive, said: “People should have concerns if their personal data is made available for anyone with a big enough cheque. The more personal data on the register, the more sensitive they will become.”
Campaigners questioned whether it was worth the risks of storing this extra personal information to deal with what they said was the relative small problem of electoral fraud.
Alex Deane, a spokesman from civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: “We have managed to have elections in this country without surrendering this sort of information for hundreds of years.
“Creating databases of our signatures, NI numbers and dates of birth has obvious risks for our privacy and identity security. The sole problem identified by the Government is election fraud.
"This is a very small issue in this country, and is driven mostly by postal voting. If you have to go on database to vote some people might say 'forget it then'.”
David Howarth MP, the Liberal Democrat’s justice spokesman, added: “This is yet more personal data being handed over to officials..
“Local authorities must remember the important data protection principle that information must never be used for another purpose, only to register to vote.
“Of most concern is the potential for the Government to move the goalposts and change the identifier required. National insurance numbers must not be allowed to become ID cards.”
The Government is already aware of potential controversy about the new plans and is planning a series of seminars to discuss any concerns in the next few months.
The Ministry of Justice said admitted that it was aware there was a risk that fewer people might register to vote because of the onerous requirements to hand over more personal data.
A spokesman said: "Individual Electoral Registration introduces significant changes to the current system of household registration and it can not be rushed because if we get it wrong then that could impact negatively on registration rates.
"We are not prepared to take such a risk with the bedrock of our democracy. We intend to hold an event in the near future to provide a forum for an open debate on issues surrounding databases and security.
“This event will take place before there is a move to collect the personal identifiers for IER and give us an opportunity for any relevant issues to be addressed.”
A spokesman for the Electoral Commision said: "The right to register to vote is of fundamental importance in our democracy and is something for which individuals should take personal responsibility.
"A move towards individual voter registration will lead to a more accurate and secure electoral register. This is a major change, requiring detailed planning, and can't be done overnight.
“We’ll be reporting annually to Parliament from 2011 on what progress is being made and whether it remains on course for delivery in 2015."
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