Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)


Should the UK introduce Identity Cards?

The United Kingdom last had compulsory National Identity Cards during the Second World War when they were introduced for security purposes. As with most forms of state control, they remained in place well after the threat had passed.

Wartime ID cards were finally withdrawn by the Churchill government in 1952 because of the tension they created between the police and innocent citizens. There is no reason to believe such tension would be less today.

The last person to be prosecuted for refusing to carry an ID card was Clarence Henry Willcock. Latest polls suggest that current Government plans would create three million new ID "refuseniks".

In recent decades the idea of re-introducing ID cards has been floated by various governments, possibly because of the advances in technology. The threat now under New Labour seems to be the most serious yet. Home Secretary David Blunkett began the process to introduce such cards and Charles Clarke seems determined to follow his lead. When Blunkett's arguments were shot down he descended into personal abuse and called those who dared to disagree with him "intellectual pygmies".

The exact nature of the proposed new compulsory National Identity Cards has not been announced. One thing is certain: they will not simply be a piece of cardboard. They will be high-tech creations. As well as a photograph, the cards will carry biometric information, for example fingerprints and/or iris scans. There is also the possibility of other information being added at a later date.

The new cards are also likely to be machine readable, if not immediately then in the near future. With a single swipe your presence at any place and time can be recorded in a central database.

It's important to remember that the Cards per se will just be the tip of the iceberg. They will be supported by a massive database - the unpleasant sounding "National Identity Register" - containing an unprecedented amount of information on every British citizen.

Technology also exists ("RFID") should the government decide to use it (*), to scan the cards without needing to swipe them. Simply walking past a hidden sensor whilst carrying your card could cause your movements to be recorded. This technology is already being used on the London Underground to track the movements of season ticket holders. Of course Underground users know that their RFID ticket is being scanned. The problem with RFID is that it can also be scanned without your knowledge or consent.

These high-tech ID cards will not come cheap. The citizen will be expected to pay - an estimated 40 a head. You will have to pay this when you first get a card, when it needs to be renewed and every time it is lost or damaged. For this reason compulsory National Identity Cards are being referred to as Blair's Poll Tax.

Identity Cards are not simply an idea we can experiment with for a year or two. If they are introduced it will take decades if not generations to get rid of them.

Maybe I'm wrong about the dangers of the Card. But what if I'm right? Unless there is an overwhelming case made for their introduction, can we afford to take the risk?

(*) There are no proposals for RFID to be included on the first ID Cards. Who knows what will happen in the future - it would be technically easy to do.

UK ID Cards - Introduction

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