Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)

Briefings

This is page 3 of my personal response to Baroness Scotland's speech in the House of Lords on 21/3/2005. Click here for page 1.
Baroness ScotlandResponse from Trevor Mendham
The identity cards scheme is being introduced not only as a convenient way for individuals to prove their identity, it is also necessary in the wider public interest. This is the second arm of the statutory purposes as set out in Clause 1(3)(b) and (4). The public interest is defined in five ways, and I think it would be helpful if I deal with each of them in turn.

Even if the scheme is in the public interest - which I question - it is certainly not necessary. There are other cheaper, less intrusive ways of meeting the government's stated aims.

First, we have national security. Identity cards on their own will not stop the risk of terrorism. However, we have been advised that they will help. We have also been advised that more than one third of terrorist suspects are known to have used false identities. We should be clear that identity cards will not somehow prevent suicide bombers, but they will disrupt the activities of those who aid and abet terrorism by hiding behind multiple and false identities. By making it harder or impossible to assume a false identity, or to use multiple identities, it will be much more difficult for terrorists to ply their trade, and there is no doubt that the introduction of identity cards will help the police and security services in their work.

Good to see the admission that ID Cards won't stop terrorism. The degree to which they will even deter it is doubtful and unproven. Independent reports have shown that countries with ID Cards - such as Spain - suffer just as much from terrorism.

The second part of the public interest definition is the prevention or detection of crime. I can reassure your Lordships that the police will have no new powers to demand proof of identity or to require people to produce an identity card in the street as a result of this Bill. It will be possible for the police to seek information from the national identity register to check an individual's identity with or without that individual's consent, provided that it can be justified for the prevention or detection of crime.

Note that although the current Bill grants no new "stop and scan" powers, there is nothing to prevent a future government giving the police such powers. Once the cards become an integral part of our daily lives I am convinced a future government will claim such powers a "logical" next step.

In the case of biometric information, Clause 23 means that the police will have first to check their own records before seeking the provision of information from the register about a suspect's photograph or fingerprints, and Parliament will also be able to agree specific rules as provided for in Clause 23 on how information will be provided to the police or other organisations. These will include provisions such as the level in the organisation at which the request must be approved.

We have also protected the most sensitive area of the register - the records of how the card or database entry has been checked previously (paragraph 9 of Schedule 1). This information can be provided only for purposes connected with the prevention and detection of serious crime or for the existing statutory purposes of the intelligence and security agencies.

This is the infamous audit trail - the most dangerous part of the Register.

The restrictions are welcome, but the access allowed is already far too wide. And we know from experience - see RIPA - that such restrictions tend to be watered down in time. That's before even considering the threat from hacking and simple incompetence.

Even ignoring those points, the government seem to be saying: "Only the police and security services will be allowed a complete record of where you go and what you do - so that's all right then." I beg to differ.

The third part of the public interest definition is the enforcement of immigration controls. Most people will be entered on the register when they apply for a designated document. Clauses 4 and 10 provide for this. It is intended to designate British passports issued to United Kingdom residents. Once designated, anyone over the age of 16 applying for a British passport will be entered on the national identity register and will be issued also with an identity card. The passport and identity card will be issued as a package and it will no longer be an option to obtain a passport on its own once it has been designated.

In the case of foreign residents, the intention is to designate the residence documents issued to foreign nationals and for these to double as an identity card. What this means is that, once designated, anyone applying for these documents and legally resident in the United Kingdom will have had their identity verified to the highest standard and will have been issued with a biometric ID card. This will act as a major deterrent to illegal immigration as eventually everyone resident here legally will have a biometric ID card which will confirm their identity as well as their right to reside here and, if they are only a temporary resident, such as a foreign student, any limits on their stay.

The fourth part of the public interest definition is the enforcement of prohibitions on illegal working. One of the key pull factors for illegal immigrants is our healthy employment market, combined with the fact that even the most reputable of employers can find it is too easy to be hoodwinked by forged papers.

We are stepping up our enforcement activity against illegal working. During 2004 the Immigration Service carried out 1,618 operations against illegal working. In the future, the possession of an identity card which confirms an individual's right to work in the United Kingdom will make it much easier for the vast majority of legitimate employers to ensure that they comply with the law. It will also make prosecution of unscrupulous employers simpler.

Illegal immigration and illegal working go together. It's worth remembering that many illegal immigrants risk their lives crammed into cattle trucks to get here - do we really believe that the thought of an ID card will stop such desperate people from coming?

So the real question is, "will ID Cards help us to catch illegal immigrants once they are here?" I think not.

Such people today tend to work in the illegal economy, cash in hand, no questions asked. Many are in the thrall of criminal gangmasters who make them risk their lives for pennies. Will such gangmasters ask for ID Cards? Hardly.

If an ID card scheme is effective then it will simply drive more illegal immigrants into the arms of gangmasters. The criminals will make more profit and more people will die.

The final public interest is to secure the efficient and effective provision of public services. Clauses 15 to 17 allow Parliament to approve regulations for public services to require an identity card to be produced before an individual accesses a particular service. This is not a "one size fits all" provision. Parliament will have to approve individual regulations for individual services and there are obligations on the Government to consult about any proposals. However, the principle is surely right that when seeking access to a public service such as free health treatment, or applying for the payment of state benefits, an individual should be asked to produce an identity card that confirms his or her identity as a first step in proving entitlement to the service. Of course, as we have always made clear, this will not interfere with the delivery of emergency healthcare or other services. As I have already explained, we expect that most people will obtain their ID card when they apply for a British passport or a foreign national's residence permit.

As I have explained before, entitlement is not the same as identity. It is perfectly possible to separate the two. Instead the government choose to conflate them in order to justify their identity control scheme.

However, the Government have been clear that the identity cards scheme which is being introduced is designed to become compulsory. We therefore need to have the debate on the principle of compulsion now. The provisions on compulsion are in Clauses 6, 7 and 9 and are about the timing of compulsion and the precise categories of people who will be required to register. It would be possible to phase in this requirement for different categories at different times and to exempt certain groups, such as, perhaps, the very elderly. The Government must publish their reasons for compulsion, they must allow both Houses of Parliament to comment on their proposition for compulsion and must take account of these comments before laying an order before both Houses. Under this so-called super-affirmative procedure both Houses must then agree to the order setting a date for compulsion.

By discussing the introduction of compulsion the government is continuing to imply that the scheme will initially be voluntary. As mentioned earlier, it will within a few years be compulsory for 80% of the population, without any "super-affirmative" process required.

The means of enforcing the compulsion to register are via civil financial penalties. It will not be a criminal offence to fail to register when the scheme is compulsory because we do not see the need to burden the police and the criminal courts with enforcing the scheme. We will use civil means. Clauses 34 and 35 set out the procedure for objecting to or appealing against any civil penalty that may be imposed

To clarify, Baroness Scotland is talking about the 2500 fine for failing to attend a registration centre for scanning and indexing and the 1000 fine every time you fail to inform the Government of an address change.

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