Alarm bells should be sounding in Canberra — as well as in commercial, legal, law enforcement and policy-making circles — following the news from Britain that data on 25 million people has been lost in the post.

Personal details of half the UK’s population stored on two computer discs went missing while being couriered from HM Revenue and Customs, the UK tax office. “It is inexcusable, I deeply regret it, I unreservedly apologise for what has happened,” grovelled Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

Here at home, the Howard Government has awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to Booz Allen Hamilton to use its high-tech skills to develop what is politely called “a nationwide smart card”. It’s nothing of the sort: it’s a national ID card, an idea which has been sold to Prime Minister John Howard by the Bush Administration and its diplomatic representatives in Australia.

Booz Allen Hamilton, based in Virginia (which, for all paranoids, is also the home of Langley, the headquarters of the CIA), is working with the Department of Human Services to develop the card which will be issued to 20 million Australians between 2008 and 2010.

BAH’s 2007 annual report spells out the card’s scope: “Used to access social services entitlements, the smart cards will include a microchip to store information including an individual’s name, address, biometric photo, digitized signature, and gender, as well as details about dependents, social service concession status and emergency information.”

How things have changed: when Bob Hawke suggested the Australia Card in the late 1980s there was uproar from both sides of politics and the scheme was abandoned. Now a private US contractor is developing a far more invasive scheme and everyone appears to be copping it sweet. Could we have a full inquiry and public debate next year, or will the incoming federal government simply leave it to the spooks?