Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)


On 20/12/2004 the Times published a letter from Home Secretary Charles Clarke defending David Blunkett's unpopular ID Card scheme. The reaction of many of us was "is that the best he can do?"

Original letter here

Charles ClarkeResponse from Trevor Mendham
I HAVE long been a strong supporter of the benefits of identity cards. I became convinced of the advantages as a weapon in fighting crime when I was Police Minister from 1999 to 2001. I backed David Blunkett’s proposals when we discussed them in Cabinet and as Education Secretary I told the Home Affairs Select Committee last April of my personal support for the principle.

That is why I will today propose that the House of Commons gives a second reading to the Identity Cards Bill. I have been urged by opponents of this measure - such as Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats - to 'pause for thought' in the entirely forlorn hope that I will abandon the whole idea.

However, I believe that - quite apart from the security advantages - there will be enormous practical benefits. ID cards will potentially make a difference to any area of everyday life where you already have to prove your identity - such as opening a bank account, going abroad on holiday, claiming a benefit, buying goods on credit and renting a video. Benefits to the state, yes. But to the individual? I don't see it.
If the benefits are so clear, why do so many thousands of us oppose these cards? We see no benefits yet will be forced to have and pay for them. If Mr Clarke is so confident about these benefits he should make the cards genuinely optional and watch us queue up for them.
The possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity - in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics - will offer significant benefits Note the way he tries to slip in "the database" as a "benefit". In fact it is the huge, intrusive central database that is the biggest threat.
Moreover, their help in tackling fraud will save tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Some £50 million a year is claimed illegally from the benefits systems using false identities. This money can be far better spent improving schools and hospitals and fighting crime and antisocial behaviour. £50 million a year sounds like a lot - but current government estimates put the cost of the Identity Card scheme at over £5 billion. And that's without factoring in the running costs. Hardly value for money. Perhaps that is why the Government is refusing to publish the business case for the scheme.
This drive towards secure identity is, of course, happening all over the world. No it's not. It's happening in a few places. Others have resisted the climate of fear.
Australia dumped plans for compulsory ID Cards. Many countries haven't even considered them. Even those countries that do have compulsory ID Cards rarely link them to a central database. About the only example I can think of that supports Mr Clarke's assertion is Malaysia - do we really want Malaysia as our civil liberties role model?
Under current plans, for example, from next autumn British tourists who need a new passport will have to get a biometric one to visit the US or get a biometric visa. We will - rightly - have to bear the costs of introducing the new technology to enhance our passports anyway. Good to see the Home Office finally acknowledging the visa option. Biometric passports won't be necessary, just convenient. Even then they'll only be convenient for the tiny proportion of the population who visit the US. Even then there is no need to have them backed up by an intrusive central database.
We should take the opportunity of that investment to secure wider benefits such as those I set out here. Again I question the existence of those benefits to the individual. I also question the assumption that the billions to be spent on the National Identity Register are somehow just a small addition to the money being spent on biometric passports.
Of course, the Bill may be amended at the various stages of parliamentary discussion, and I will look carefully at all constructive suggestions to improve our proposals. But I have to say that my commitment to the principle of ID cards is very strong and will not waver, mainly because I think that they will help to make everyone a bit safer, at no real cost to civil liberties. Clarke appears to be following Blair into the realm of "faith based Government".
For example, a secure identity system will help to prevent terrorist activity, more than a third of which makes use of false identities. Research shows that those countries with ID Cards suffer from terrorism as much as any other. Terrorists and organised criminals will be amongst the first to get fake ID Cards.
It will make it far easier to address the vile trafficking in vulnerable human beings that ends in the tragedies of Morecambe Bay, exploitative near-slave labour or vile forced prostitution. Repeating Blunkett's despicable cashing in on the Morecambe Bay tragedy. Does anyone really believe that gangmasters employing illegal immigrants are going to insist on seeing ID cards?
It will reduce identity fraud, which now costs the UK more than £1.3 billion every year. The Government keeps repeating that figure but there is no solid basis for it. "Identity fraud" is usually defined to include credit card fraud - which we are told will be drastically cut anyway by Chip & Pin. The only way ID Cards could combat credit card fraud is if you are fingerprinted and iris scanned every time you use your credit card. Do you really want that?
I believe that some critics of our proposals are guilty of liberal woolly thinking and spreading false fears when they wrongly claim that ID cards will erode our civil liberties, will revisit 1984, usher in the 'Big Brother' society, or establish some kind of totalitarian police state. Those kinds of nightmare will be no more true of ID cards, when they are introduced, than they have been for the spread of cash and credit cards, driving licences, passports, work security passes and any number of the other current forms of ID that most of us now carry Clarke completely misses the point that most existing ID is optional and limited to a specific purpose. I can choose whether or not to have and use a credit card. I consent to my data being used by a supermarket loyalty scheme. I can walk into town without expecting anyone to demand to see my driving licence.

With ID Cards there will be no choice and no consent - just demands.

In order to reinforce this point, the Bill does not make it compulsory to carry a card, nor does it give powers to the police to stop individuals and demand to see their card. True. But there's nothing to stop compulsion to carry being introduced later. Once "everyone has one", the police will argue it is simply common sense to make them compulsory to carry. Some senior officers have already begun making such arguments.
Even if it isn't compulsory to carry the card, the Bill allows anyone - including private companies - to demand to check it before providing a service. Clarke talked at the beginning of his letter about the myriad of places an ID Card could be used. So whatever the legal situation it will be impossible to operate in society without carrying the card - de facto compulsion to carry.
Neither will the database which accompanies the card hold information such as medical records, religion or political beliefs. The audit trail will contain a record of where and when the card is used. If I use my card every Tuesday to prove my identity at the local drug rehabilitation clinic people will be able to make a simple deduction.
In addition, what the scheme does is to introduce a single universal identifier for each individual. There is no protection for that identifier - indeed the Government seems to want to encourage people to use it all over the place. So even if your personal information isn't held on the ID database per se, it will become much easier to cross-reference different databases.
Of course, ID cards cannot solve every problem. But - properly and carefully introduced, as they will be - they can be part of the solution. I'm sure ID cards can provide some minor benefits - but the costs in terms of expense, privacy and civil liberties are far too high.
There is no contradiction between the introduction of ID cards and the wide range of other measures with which the Government seeks to fight crime. Measures such as reducing the right to trial by jury, removing double jeopardy protection and locking up people indefinitely without trial. Hardly reassuring.
I claim that the ID Cards Bill that I am introducing today is a profoundly civil libertarian measure because it promotes the most fundamental civil liberty in our society, which is the right to live free from crime and fear. At best wishful thinking, at worst pure doublethink
Both in practice and in principle ID cards are right. I hope that they will gain wide support throughout our society, and the sooner the better. Aha! At last - the Home Office finally admit that public opinion today is not supportive of the Government's plans.

Both in practice and in principle ID cards are wrong. I hope that there will be widespread peaceful protest against them throughout our society, and the sooner the better.

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UK ID Cards - Introduction

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