A threat to your freedom
ID CARDS - THE FACTS
Q. What is New Labour's public position on ID cards?
A. There have been contradictory statements.
After public clamour, including several letters in the Times from prominent people, BBC Ceefax (1.10.01) reported: "The Government will not introduce ID cards as part of emergency anti-terrorist legislation. Home Office minister Lord Rooker told a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference ministers had only ever discussed it informally. He said "We have no policy, no plans; no consultation paper" and: "There is no secret Bill and no secret agenda". Civil liberty groups welcomed Lord Rooker's comments."
(Note that Lord Rooker did not, however, say that the Government will not introduce ID cards under other auspices).
And as soon as the sensitive Party Conference was over, his assurances were contradicted by Home Secretary David Blunkett who confirmed that plans had not been shelved1!. Lord Rooker has claimed to have been misquoted by the press over some of the comments he made that day on ID cards, but he repeated his denial to the House of Lords2. Read on and judge for yourself.
Q. But wouldn't ID cards have stopped the New York suicide bombers?
A. Local ID cards didn't stop them - the first prosecution is of Herbert Villalobos, who allegedly helped the bombers get false ID cards3.
The non-political Institute of Quality Assurance looked at the biometric technology that is sometimes touted as the solution and concluded that it was not in a position to neutralise the threat of terrorism. It quoted a report from the US Department of Transportation that its use would not have made a significant difference4
The security 'argument' for ID cards generally is therefore flimsy - they will merely inconvenience millions of ordinary people and threaten our traditional freedoms.
Q. But other countries have them?
A. Many of the countries with compulsory ID cards have poor records on democracy and 'human rights', such as Zimbabwe whose political opposition see recent moves to introduce them as an act of suppression5. Their introduction in France has not produced any decrease in crime6. The respected Privacy International have a very balanced and readable Internet article on other countries' experiences7: After public protest, common law countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA all dropped plans for compulsory ID cards - the USA has also reaffirmed it will not bring in ID cards since the 11th September 2001 bombing8.
Q. But wouldn't ID cards end benefit fraud?
A. The cost of introducing ID cards has been conservatively estimated at £500m (one-off) plus £100m every year (administration, to replace lost cards, etc). That's money that won't be going into public services. but would mean foregoing several new hospitals, thousands of operations & decent pay for our nurses. It's overkill to reduce benefit fraud (est. at nearer £30m a year9).
ID cards will not deter criminals, whom experience shows can easily steal or forge them10. In fact the higher the 'entitlement' on a card, the greater the incentive. Read on.
Q. But don't we already have ID cards?
A. This is a non-argument (Think - if it was true then why would we need another compulsory national card?). We may have a work passcard, bank cash card, driving licence or passport, but being unable to produce it on demand in the UK isn't a criminal offence, and won't stop us in other areas of daily life. Putting all eggs into one basket might be a very expensive mistake!
Q. But the only people who must be against ID cards are those with something to hide?
A. By the same standard, would you agree to have a bar-code permanently tattooed on your forehead, a Government camera in your bedroom or your phone being continuously tapped on the off-chance it might just help to prevent terrorism? Indiscriminate measures that disrupt the lives of the law-abiding majority might be seen as a back-door victory for the terrorist. Statewatch have noted that it's more like a surveillance infrastructure being put in place.
The government claims there's no obligation to carry one at all times, but once in place that can be dropped! Would you like a hefty fine and a criminal record if you mislay your ID card or somebody walks off with it?
Q. But doesn't the public support ID cards?
A. Don't be fooled by a suspiciously small survey of just 500 people11 - just after the post-September 11th clamour - claiming that '85% would support ID cards...". Media coverage had been very one-sided without any counter-argument. Once people know what sensitive data could be held, the percentage opposing rises! Having harmonised EU ID cards might require at minimum storing information on: date-of-birth, marital status, religion, address, photograph, signature, fingerprint, genetic characteristics such as eye colour.
Q. The Government has claimed that recent "anti-terrorist measures" are designed to "protect freedom". Although not strictly part of the package, how would ID cards relate to them?
A. Don't believe a Government that has a Masters Degree in spin-doctoring - its other measures go well above what was relevant to any fight against terrorism. Remember the tactics of its aide Jo Moore who noted opportunities to use the events of September 11th as cover.
Ministers have in fact been considering ID cards well before recent events. Computer Weekly (13.1.2000) reported that high in the Passport Agency's priorities was a "photocard passport" by 2002, subject to ministerial and European agreement. Also government officials undertook to participate "as necessary" in any work concerning national identity cards and refused to comment on ruling out legislation.
Q. But hasn't the Government said that it's in favour of voluntary ID cards?
A. The Cabinet Office (Performance & Innovation Unit) backed the introduction of cards with a unique personal identifier, such as a thumb-print. Allegedly voluntary and to 'empower citizens' and obtain access to Government services12.
By pure coincidence, the Government committed to a EU-wide programme (codenamed E-Europe) at Lisbon in April 200013. The EU wanted to introduce smart cards that would identify us personally - microchipped multi-functional cards to get access to Government services, get NHS treatment, pay for road user charges, etc. Of particular note, it wanted 'all European citizens' to have 'the possibility' of health service cards by 2003 (although 2005 is now more likely). Where is it all leading to and where was the public consultation?
Home Office Minister Angela Eagle later revealed that the Government were considering a "universal card" to let people prove their identity and access public services14. She added that introducing this "entitlement card" would be a major
step and that the Government would not introduce it without consulting widely.
Sorry - but not convincing! The Government's E-Envoy [champion for modernising government by providing services electronically], Alex Allan, had already stated that the UK public may have to accept the use of ID cards if the electronic delivery of government services is to be 'successful'.15
Q. How do the 'entitlement cards' for asylum seekers fit in?
A. It is amazing that such a control-freak Government should try to control almost everything else tightly, but be censured by the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs for being out-of-control of asylum seekers16.
Never mind, having created a problem, you can always find a convenient excuse for bringing in a "solution" that you were planning anyway?. The 'entitlement cards' are in fact 'smart cards' which will be able to access cash, fitting the wider blueprint17.
Q. Civil liberties group Liberty have highlighted that this might be a move to bring in the cards for everyone by the back door18. What evidence is there that might justify this fear?
A. David Blunkett's Home Office doesn't want the wider population to be left out. Apparently Chancellor Gordon Brown blocked a wider Home Office proposal for ID cards for the entire adult population as the cost would approach £1bn at a time of financial tightness.
Not to be deterred, the Home Office is looking to fund universal ID cards by making them carry advertising19. (Where is the sponsorship proposal for the things the public really wants like more bobbies on the beat, or decent nurses' pay?)
It is interesting that on 24.04.01 the Home Office FAQ webpage spoke only of "ID cards". By 24.10.01, it was referring more euphemistically to "entitlement cards… universal card which would allow people to prove their identity more easily".
Q. What other evidence is there of a European angle?
A. In 1999 the Cabinet Office admitted that the Government was incorporating an "EU dimension" into policy-making at all levels of government20. The EU's civil service, the European Commission, have drawn up plans to restrict traditional freedoms such as 'trial by jury' and 'habeas corpus' (banning long detention without public trial) as part of a move to a Europe-wide policing and legal system (Corpus Juris).
Privacy International also concluded on the 'need' for ID cards to be 'acceptable to Europe' in previous Government proposals. An online pamphlet by Liberty reveals some rather mixed-up views from LibDem home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes on the subject: "Surely if we are trying to maximise European integration, then we should not be legislating for a separate UK form of identity document just at a time that the logic suggests harmonising towards a European one"
Between 29-31st October 2001, the EU Police Chiefs Task Force met in Brussels. Delegates agreed that "the EU should speed up the universal adoption of ID cards"21. E-Europe steering group's Jurgen Nehls later favoured "pan-European electronic identity" and felt that the driving licence should evolve into a full ID card.22
Please lobby key public figures and opinion formers before it's too late, and tell the media and your friends that you will not be manipulated into supporting an expensive mistake. Please use this information in replying to the Goverment's public consultation - see link below.
NB The consultation site also refers to the 'voluntary' teenage ID card, Countdown. (Daily Telegraph, 4.10.02, reported DfES had reserved £100m to promote these_).
1 BBC Ceefax, 7.10.01
2 Hansard for Lords, www.parliament.uk, 15.10.01, col 369
3 Nick Cohen, New Statesman, 1.10.01.
4 IQA website www.iqa.org, seen 1.11.01
5 BBC Online, news.bbc.co.uk, 22.11.01
6 Alan Simpson MP, quoted Liberty website www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk, ID cards pamphlet, Oct 2001
8 Computer Weekly,www.cw360.com, 1.10.01
9 Department of Social Security quoted Privacy International, above
10 Former Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien MP, also Chris Yates of Jane's Aviation, quoted Liberty, above
11 MORI for News of the World, printed 23.09.01
12 Daily Telegraph, 29.01.01
13 European Commission communication: 'E-Europe: An information society for all', 23.3.2000; 'Smart Cards for Secure Electronic Access'.
14 Hansard, 7.11.01
15 Computer Weekly,www.cw360.com, 6.07.00
16 Report out 23.01.01
17 ITV Teletext, 29.10.01.
18 ITV Teletext, 26.10.01.
19 News of the World, 4.11.01
20 Cabinet Office website,www.cabinet-office.gov.uk, 18.10.99,
21 Statewatch,www.statewatch.org, vol 11, no 5, Aug-Oct 2001.
22 E-Europe Smart Cards Open Steering Meeting, Madrid, 13-14 June 2002. www.eeurope-smartcards.org
|European policing proposals|
Date page first compiled: 6 October 2001
Article updated: 25 October 2002; link updated: 24 December 2004