Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)


This is an extract from Prime Minister Tony Blair's 29/11/2004 press conference. My responses are on the right.

Original transcript here

Tony BlairResponse from Trevor Mendham
I will start today by giving you the details of the government's Identity Cards Bill. I know this is a controversial issue, so I want to say a little bit about why I believe ID cards are necessary in today's world. The word "believe" is important. Mr Blair is entitled to his belief but should be aware that millions of us disagree. He should also be aware that just because he believes something it is not necessarily true - a lesson he should have learned after the invasion of Iraq.
We know false identities are important to terrorists and criminals because of the frequency with which they use them. There is an unjustified implicit assumption here that ID Cards will prevent false identities - this assumes that the system will be infallible, ID Cards will not be faked and no-one will tamper with the Register.
ID cards will allow people to prove who they are quickly, simply and securely. Hang on, "allow..." - this line is about a consumer benefit, not tackling terrorism. What's it doing in this paragraph? Mr Blair is either confused about or confusing the issue.
Of course they are not a silver bullet that will defeat terrorism and organised crime on their own, no-one suggests that, but they will be an important weapon in the fight against the modern threats we face from terrorism and organised crime. The Government don't say that, true, but they do seem content to let a lot of other people "suggest" it.
It is important at a time of increasing problems that we do what we can to help the police, the intelligence services and the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. True. However it is a non sequiter to assume from this that we need ID Cards. Perhaps the best way to help the police is to spend the 5.5 billion on them directly.
Independent research shows that there is no demonstrable link between ID Cards and reducing terror.
And it is worth just remembering that of the 6.4 million people recorded on the police computer, over a quarter have an alias, a false name or identity. So?
This appears to be an attempt to play up the climate of fear by suggesting 6.4 million organised criminals and terrorists waiting to pounce.
In Britain today it is quite legal to have multiple identities, many people do so for legitimate reasons. An example is actors who have a stage name - a second "identity".
Of those with multiple identities who are criminals, the vast majority are probably petty crooks - not hardened terrorists.
However, that is not the only reason for identity cards. They will also help in the fight against illegal working and immigration. How? "Gang masters" and those paying illegal immigrants in cash will not ask to see ID Cards.
The Immigration Service have seized over 4,000 suspected false documents this year. So what? Maybe in 2012 they'll seize 4,00 suspected false ID Cards. If anything, this statement proves that the imiigration service today is capable of tracking down illegals - so why not just give them more resources.
ID cards will help to bear down on fraud, and better ensure also that our public services are not exploited by those who are not entitled to use them. Perhaps - assuming the cards cannot be forged and that we are willing to be scanned and fingerprinted every time we visit the doctor or pay by credit card. But even if it does reduce fraud, will it be cost effective?
We know that this also is a problem, and very difficult to police. Identity-related benefit fraud is estimated at millions of pounds a year, eligibility for non-emergency NHS treatment is based on someone being ordinarily resident in this country.Millions - a drop in the ocean for the health service budget. And the "solution" will cost billions. So not cost-effective, then, even if it does work.
An ID card will allow the correct decision to be made and will allow the present law to be enforced in a way that all too frequently at the moment it can't be. Again, this assumes that the cards will not be faked and that we will submit to scanning everywhere.
It also ignores the flipside: what about those vulnerable groups who slip through the net and those who lose their ID cards. What about those affected by the inevitable system bugs that corrupt their NIR details? These will become Unpersons and lose rights to which they are legally entitled.
A common standard which proves on the spot who a citizen is and to what they are entitled will also mean a significant saving in terms of the checks on individuals and their identity that currently take place. At first glance that could be taken to imply that there will be less checks on people. In fact, the plans will see many more ID checks. Any "savings" will simply be administrative ones of only having to hold and check a single database. Against which must be measured the privacy costs of such a single database.
The government of course takes seriously the privacy and freedom of people, the ID cards register will only hold the basic information which is already held by different departments and public bodies. Nonsense. No Government department or public body currently holds my iris scan or fingerprints. No Government body currently keeps a list of my current and all previous addresses. No Government department currently keeps a detailed record of each and every time I access any public or private service (once compulsion is introduced, private companies will be allowed to check your ID Card and a record of this will be held in the NIR).
The biometric identifiers will ensure the privacy of that information is protected and correctly tied to an individual. Nonsense. Tied to an individual perhaps (though biometrics are not foolproof) but protected - no. The Bill allows for a huge range of people to have access to the information without the individual's permission. This list can be extended "for other purposes specified by order made by the Secretary of State", an extremely wide-ranging power.
Security of that database is also vital, and we are determined to get it right, which is why we have always said that ID cards will be introduced on a gradual basis, starting from 2008. Nice sentiment, but then they always say "we'll get it right this time".
I am also announcing today that there will be two new offences in the Bill to underline our determination to keep it secure: a maximum of 10 years for anyone tampering with the database, and a maximum of 2 years for anyone involved in its administration that discloses information improperly. Good. But such offences are unlikely to deter organised crime and terrorists.
I believe that this is responsible government, not as some have called it Big Brother government. Again, Tony Blair is entitled to his belief - but millions of us believe him to be wrong.
It is responsible to do what we can to enhance security and ensure that public services are only used by those that are actually entitled to use them. The public quite rightly want their public services to be properly used and not abused. Again, this is based on the assumption that ID Cards will achieve these aims in a cost-effective manner - assumptions that are unproven.
ID cards will also make our borders more secure, Nonsense. Foreign visitors will not be presenting UK ID Cards, they will be presenting passports.
they will make our free public services and our benefits system more secure, Repeating the same unproven assumptions
they will help protect civil liberties, not erode them, because people will be able to produce quickly their own identification, Non sequiter. I can already quickly produce my own identification; a credit card to pay for goods, a passport to travel and a driving licence to drive. (Or I would if I did...)
ID Cards are not about people being "able to" have identification it is about them being forced to. Talk of "enabling" us is pure spin. The Government is trying to relabel a threat as an opportunity.
and I would simply point out, as I did at the weekend, that without proper security then there can be no opportunity. This line has no connection to the preceding one and appears to be an attempt to get away from the civil liberties issue before anyone realises he was talking nonsense.

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