Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)

Briefings - Tony Blair, 27/06/2005

At the PM's regular press conference today, Blair began by trying to defend the discredited ID Card scheme:

Tony BlairResponse from Trevor Mendham
Right, I am going to talk to you about identity cards, because the Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons. I am confident we can get the Bill on the statute book, and I am also confident that in principle we have public support for this measure. If this were genuinely an Identity Card scheme, he might indeed have public support. In fact it is an intrusive Identity Database scheme. The more that people learn about what that means, the less they like it.
People recognise the benefits of a scheme that will allow us to tackle identity fraud more effectively, bear down on illegal working, illegal immigration, abuse of our public services and help in the fight against organised crime and terrorism, and these are all strong arguments for moving forward with identity cards. There is no evidence that the proposed scheme will make a significant impact on any of these areas. These are not "arguments", they are at best "hopes" and at worst cynical attempts to find any excuse to justify this increasingly unpopular scheme.
However, there is in addition, and this is what I want to focus some time on, a very compelling and unique argument in favour of this as a result of the changes both in technology and then consequential changes in practice right round the world, and this is I think the most important part of answering the Question, well why now are we saying it is important to introduce this measure? There is now the technology to move to a biometric passport, that is a document with fingerprint and facial recognition of the holder, and to move to that biometric passport will require an interview and then obviously getting the facial and fingerprint biometrics. Irrelevant.

Blair seems to have been entranced by the lure of technology. The argument "we can so we should" is extremely dangerous.

Even if the biometric technology were proven - which it is not - it would simply enable an ID Card scheme. It would not justify it. Unless the scheme can be justified in terms of privacy and civil liberties then the availability of new technology is irrelevant.

In a time also of intense global insecurity, there is now an unstoppable political momentum across the developed world for countries to use the opportunity of the new technology to make their borders more secure. That is why in May 2003 the International Civil Aviation Organisation said that facial biometrics should become standard practice in the 188 countries that belong to the ICA. All G8 member states, for example, are now committed to issuing biometric passports, all have programmes in place to issue biometric passports, and most will have done so by 2006. Australia and New Zealand will issue biometric passports this year, Canada will start next year. The USA passed legislation, post-9/11 that countries whose citizens do not currently need visas to holiday in the States must begin issuing biometric passports by the end of October 2006, or risk facing visa restrictions. And nearly 4 million UK citizens, as you know, visit the US every year and obviously we don't want them to have to have the inconvenience of what is a 60 tourist visa every time they holiday in the US. The European Union has also agreed that member states' passports should start containing facial biometrics from mid-2006 and fingerprints from 2008, and that visas and residents permits for non-EU nationals should also be issued with biometrics.

So the impact of all this - and this is the essential first step in this argument - is that we are going to be in a position where we have to make our passports here in the UK biometric if UK citizens are to continue to enjoy the right to travel freely around the world, and equally we need other countries to move ahead with biometrics if we are to have the most modern border controls here in Britain. And as we tighten our immigration and asylum controls we will have an electronic border system that will allow computerised embarkation checks from 2008.

Irrelevant.



No-one is arguing about making passports more secure. A passport is a specific document used for a specific purpose. It is used for crossing borders. The ID card will become an internal passport - a completely different thing.

Blair is attempting to conflate biometric passports with the ID Card scheme. Don't be fooled.

Many countries such as Australia will comply with the new biometric passport standards - without introducing ID Cards and an intrusive National Identity Register.

The government is imposing ID cards on us not because it has to but because it wants to.

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