enovation: Watch out for 'Big Brother'government, says Lyn Whitfield

Are we going to have identity cards, or are not we? Home secretary David Blunkett came close to saying 'yes' a fortnight ago, and more or less definitely said 'no' last week.

But the idea of 'citizen access' cards is still in the air, and there are other developments to keep an eye on.Particularly interesting, is the Office of the E-envoy's decision to set up working groups on digital signatures and smartcards.Astonishingly, it seems to think that concerns about 'Big Brother' government can be overcome by giving people a 'choice' of card.

Put your health data on your store card or your petrol points card, It is up to you.

The real debate is about the creation of central government databases, links between them and links with the commercial sector.

It does not much matter who issues the cards if your health record can be correlated with your application for a passport or your insurance records.

Nor does it matter who issues the card if transactions made on it (with government or business) can be logged and kept.

Privacy campaigners sometimes talk as if there is a vast government/commercial plot to bring in 'dataveillance.'This is probably paranoia.But unless people have control of their data, their privacy is protected and there are strict limits on the uses to which data can be put, there is a danger of dataveillance anyway.

Many disadvantaged groups might not access the NHS if they knew other government departments could trace them as a result.But everybody has something they do not want others to know.A calm and rational debate on the issues is as vital as ever.