End Evil

ID Cards in the UK

"Would you be happy if online auction sites, casinos or car rental company employees are given the same identity information that provides you with access to your medical records?" Mr Fishenden writes.

An earlier trial involving 10,000 volunteers showed ethnic minorities, the elderly and disabled were at risk of being wrongly identified. Studies have found being scanned in shadow could also lead to an inaccurate identification.

The government plans to start phasing in the ID card scheme - which is expected to cost at least £5.8 billion - from 2008. Last week, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, attempted to alleviate Labour MP´s fears by suggesting a "budget" identity card that would cost £30 but would not encompass a passport.

The Background

In December 1950 Clarence Henry Willcock was stopped by a Policeman who demanded that he present his ID card to a Police station within 48 hours. He refused, and was prosecuted and convicted. He took his case to the Court of Appeal, and lost. However, the Lord Chief Justice noted that compulsory Identity Cards "tend to make people resentful of the acts of the police". In 1952, Churchill presided over the withdrawal of the ID cards.

However, there are some noticable difference between the wartime ID cards and the current version

1 They did not require you to be fingerprinted (normally reserved for persons suspected of a crime)
2 You were not fined £1000 for failing to notify a change of address
3 They did not cost £80 - £100 per person and £6million of tax payers money a year to fund
4 The cards were not linked to a register which would record their use (and along with them your actions and movements)
5 They were intended as an emergency measure

Blunket originally told MPs that although the scheme would be voluntary people would be automatically issued with an identity card when they renewed their passport from 2007 under legislation to be debated in parliament this autumn. "You will be issued with an identity card. Whether you want to use it is up to you," said a Home Office source. Mr Clarke has now clarified that (subject to a future vote) ID cards will have to become compulsory.


The extent of the information on the card has not been clarified. At present it will include a photograph and fingerprints and/or iris scan. Further information can easily be added at a later date. All of your details would be stored in the "National Identity Register". This creates a number of logistical problems.

1 collecting the data (every citizen needs to be scanned, fingerprinted, etc)
2 checking the data is correct (how do I prove I am me before getting my fingerprints taken to add to the card which will prove my identity with reference to the fingerprints)
3 The information in any database can be incorrect, stolen or falsified. How do you ensure your details are correct?
4 What happens when (not if) the system crashes?
5 What about fake ID cards?

If the cards are chipped, Radio Frequency Identification would allow the Government to track the movements of any individual without their knowledge using hidden sensors. This technology is already being used on the London Underground to track the movements of season ticket holders, and is being added to the new US passports.

The Justifications

1 To Fight Crime and Terror

Spain's compulsory ID cards did nothing to prevent the Madrid bombing, and those responsible for 9/11 had valid passports! Throughout the troubles in Northern Ireland, the identities of many of the proponents of violence on each side were known, but you still need evidence to get a conviction. Furthermore, suicide bombers can only commit the crime once (for reasons which should be obvious even to the Government), but an ID card could not tell you that they planned to take this action.

Still at least Blunkett agrees that this argument is pants "Yes, I accept that it is important that we do not pretend that an entitlement card would be an overwhelming factor in combating international terrorism. That is precisely what I said three times on the radio within a fortnight of 11 September, and I reiterated it this afternoon."

The cards were originally called "entitlement cards" to give the (false) impression that they would help you prove you are entitled to a service. However, identity and entitlement are not the same concepts. For example, as a citizen of the UK I am entitled to NHS care. It is not necessary for me to prove my identity, only that I am a citizen (this issue is already covered by NI numbers in any case).

2 To Prevent Benefit Fraud and Illegal Immigration

Most benefit fraud is not identity fraud. The person is exactly who they claim to be, but their circumstances may be different. If it becomes necessary to show an ID card to get work, those outside the system will have no choice but to commit a crime instead of taking cash in hand work. I don't see how this helps anyone.

Most illegal immigrants enter the country with no documents at all, or fake documents. This would not change.

3 To prevent identity theft

Blunkett described the proposed ID cards as the "gold standard of identification", but an estimated 95% of the population have more than one method of identifying themselves to those in authority.

Identity theft largely relates to the use of credit cards, so unless your bank details are stored on the ID card and credit cards cease to exist, it is unclear how this would help. It would also be necessary to give your fingerprints or have your iris scanned every time you made a purchase (if your identity is to be protected by those details). Unlike the Government, I am not convinced that serious criminals will be unable to make their own cards, or hack into the system and change or steal the data.

Now Microsoft have advised that the system could generate "massive identity fraud". Furthermore, if your details have been compromised, you cannot just change them (unless they are proposing giving you new eyes for your iris scan and new fingers for the fingerprints). If your credit card is stolen, you can cancel it and get a new one. You cannot get a new identity. Furthermore every time you use the card you would be providing your details to another private company or computer system from which the details could be stolen.

Furthermore, having an apparently "foolproof" method of identifying some one will cause its own problems. Once in possession of a fake card, a fraudster will be immune to any challenge as the cards cannot be wrong!

4 If you are innocent, you have nothing to fear

By the same token, I should agree to a strip search and urine and blood test every morning when I arrive at work - after all I have nothing to hide! You could also eradicate crime by ensuring that every person in the UK is under the watchful eye of a camera at all times (including in the toilet). Perhaps, every person in the UK could undertake a lie detector test every month to confirm they are not planning any terrorist or criminal activity. Wishing to protect your privacy does not mean that you have something to hide.

Those of us who do not trust the Government with this information are dismissed as paranoid. They assure us that they would never abuse the system. Yet, anti-terrorism laws applied after 9/11 have already been used to prevent lawful protests in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

For example, during the policing of peaceful demonstrations at RAF Fairford, an anti-terrorist order was served on an 11-year-old girl (legal action pending) and a coach load of demonstrators were kidnapped by police (legal action pending). "Liberty" confirm 61 people were arrested at RAF Fairford, 27 were subsequently charged with public order (but not terrorist) offences. The rest were released without charge. This is despite assurances from the Home Secretary to Parliament that the Terrorism Act 2000 was not being used to prevent protests at Fairford.

Of course, our government has also run foul of human rights legislation by holding "terrorists" indefinitely without trial or access to the evidence against them. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that the government has banned the release of advice given by Lord Goldsmith, (the Attorney General) to cabinet ministers on whether the controversial bill to introduce ID cards for 55 million British citizens will invade people´s privacy or human rights.


The ID card is not about proving your identity; it is about the Government identifying you. This is a fairly important distinction, particularly as Blunkett had stated that MI5 and MI6 would be allowed access to the data in the fight against terrorism because it will provide a "full audit trail" of when and where cards are produced. This is backed by hefty fines for non-registration and failure to notify the authorities of a change of address.

The proponents

Mr Clarke rather cynically argues that ID cards are a measure designed to enhance civil liberties, by reducing crime. He notes, that the innocent have nothing to fear, and accuses those who disagree of "liberal woolly thinking and spreading false fears". Mr Howard claimed that the ID scheme is "in the national interest", but added the caveat that he would review the logistics of it if the Tories were to win power (keep dreaming Michael).

The opponents

Mark Oaten (The Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman) noted that "If they really think that having a piece of plastic, which is going to cost (the tax payer) around £6bn, is going to deter a terrorist, then I think the woolly thinking is taking place on their part, not mine." David Winnick (a Labour member of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee) has stated "If I could be persuaded that it would prevent terrorism, I wouldn´t hesitate to change my mind simply because the security and safety of the country must be first and foremost, but what I fear is that this is pandering to outright prejudice [about] illegal immigration and working, and people claiming what they shouldn´t be claiming." For the first time ever, I find myself in agreement with Margaret Thatcher - she noted that the cards were an affront to personal freedoms.


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