Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)


On 21/3/2005 Baroness Scotland of Asthal opened the House of Lords second reading debate on the Identity Cards Bill. Here is her speech along with my personal comments.

Original transcript here

Baroness ScotlandResponse from Trevor Mendham
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Our identities are precious and need to be protected. The Identity Cards Bill establishes a clear legislative framework for an identity cards scheme that will enable everyone aged 16 and over and resident in the United Kingdom to hold a biometric identity card, linked to a national identity register.

Baroness Scotland correctly quotes the title to the Bill, however that title is misleading. The so-called "Identity Cards" Bill is actually a "National Identity Register Bill" - the cards are secondary.
The use of the word "enable" is also misleading since the scheme is intended to become compulsory. Many people such as myself who don't want an ID Card will not be enabled but compelled.

Clause 1 establishes clear statutory purposes for the scheme so that there is no possibility of confusion as to what it is for. Clause 1(3)(a) makes it clear that the purpose of the identity cards scheme is, first, to provide people with a convenient method of proving their identity. That is exactly why most people want identity cards.

As the Baroness herself says later, the Bill lists five justifications. None of these stand up to scrutiny. Hardly a "clear" purpose.

Again, the word "provide" is misleading - it will enforce such a method. If the government really believe "That is exactly why most people want identity cards" then the scheme should be voluntary.

Current means of identification are simply not secure or reliable enough. This was pointed out clearly in Identity Fraud: A Study, published by the Cabinet Office in 2002. However good the security printing of existing documents is, there is always a risk that they can be forged. Existing documents cannot link an individual to a single, unique identity, whereas a biometric identity card scheme will allow each and every one of us to prove conclusively that we are who we say we are whenever we need to prove our identity. Anyone who has teenage children will know the importance to them of being able to prove their age. A biometric identity card will do that quickly and easily.

It is true that biometric technology today is more secure than other methods. How long will that last? If this scheme is introduced then it will immediately become a target for organised crime and well-financed terrorists.

The reference to teenage proof of age is irrelevant. I would support a young person's proof of age card providing it were 1) voluntary, 2) for a specific purpose only, 3) not linked to an intrusive database. The proposed ID scheme fails all three of those important tests.

Photographic identity documents are increasingly required in a wide range of circumstances; for example, by low-cost airlines, even for domestic flights. That creates problems for people, often elderly people, who do not have a current passport or photo-card driving licence. Identity cards will fill the gap.

True. But that does not mean they are the only way of filling the gap. There are simpler, cheaper and less intrusive ways of allowing people to voluntarily prove their identity.

We cannot stand still in the knowledge of the threats that we all face from identity fraud. Not only does it cost the country an estimated 1.3 billion per year, but it creates real concerns for those of us at risk and real problems for the victims of fraudsters. Not surprisingly, sales of shredders have increased dramatically in recent years, as people have realised the importance of shredding personal and financial documents. A recent report published in Which? showed that a quarter of those questioned knew someone who had had their identity taken and misused or had experienced that personally. It is no wonder that the same survey showed that more than two-thirds of us were concerned about identity fraud.

It's true that the government has had much success selling Identity Theft as a scare story. However it evaporates under examination. See here for more details.
As a guard against financial fraud, reliable proof of identity is rightly needed before a bank or building society account can be opened or a large financial transaction made. By removing the need to rely on existing documents such as passports or insecure documents such as utility bills, biometric identity cards will provide the answer.

Why "rightly"? These are restrictions that the government have imposed on the financial services industry in a vain attempt to crack down on money laundering. As a result, millions of innocent people are inconvenienced. The government has created a problem that ID Cards will help to "solve".

In accordance with standards laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, our own biometric British passports with a facial image biometric will be introduced in about a year's time. These will become a requirement for international travel. For example, the United States has already made clear that countries which do not provide their citizens with biometric passports will be excluded from its visa waiver scheme. Thus if the United Kingdom were not to introduce its own biometric passports, British citizens visiting the United States would first have to obtain a visa.

The government is, as usual, conflating the very limited requirement for biometrics on passports with its own huge, intrusive National Identity Register. See Baroness Ludford's intervention below.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Is there any intention to achieve reciprocity in this respect? Do the British Government intend to make similar demands of American citizens?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the British Government have not come to a view on that, but it is important to acknowledge what the position is in relation to the international community. It is not only the Americans who have taken this view. Noble Lords will know that our other European partners are also looking at biometric data in relation to passports. We may soon face a situation where the main way in which identity will be verified will be by using biometric data. That is the reality, irrespective of what our American colleagues across the water choose to do.

It is important to recognise that if the United Kingdom does not introduce its own biometric passports, British citizens travelling not only to the United States, but also elsewhere, may in due course find themselves in more difficulty than is necessary.

The term "face a situation" is interesting as it implies the situation is out of the government's control. But as a key player in the international community and a country "at the heart of Europe", the UK is involved in setting these standards. It's a bit rich to then turn round and try to blame everyone else!

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