On Monday, November 30, the Manchester Identity and Passport service opened its doors and began issuing the first identity cards to British subjects since 1952. (1)
Although the cards themselves are bad enough, they are perhaps the most benign aspect of the whole enterprise, the true meat of which is the National Identity Register’(2), a centralised database in which details of all those who carry the card will be held. Fifty items per individual of personal data are to be stored (3) on this database and these will include fingerprints and facial scans, with provision for further data to be added at a later date.
Although plans to make the cards themselves compulsory were dropped anyone wishing to avoid being present on the National Identity Register will, from 2011, find themselves listed if they apply for a passport. If the government is successful in rolling out identity cards across the country then this will represent a massive accumulation of personal data and an unacceptable intrusion into the private lives of UK subjects.
Yet despite its scope, since the scheme’s inception the government has failed to make a case for its introduction. The latest attempt came from Meg Hiller, the minister for identity, who, when appearing (4) on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, suggested that a major benefits for the people of Manchester from identity cards would be that they would be able to collect parcels from post offices with greater ease and that young people would now no longer need a passport to prove their age whilst gaining entry to a nightclub.
These are extremely modest improvements to modern life for a project that the Government has forecast will cost £5.6 (5) and the LSE £10.2-19.6 (6) billion to run for ten years. Other justifications for the scheme have included the prevention of terrorism, identity theft and benefit fraud but none of these stands up to scrutiny.
Former home secretary Charles Clarke admitted (7) that identity cards would not have prevented the 2005 London attacks, and reliance on a single nominally secure form of identification could actually make identity theft more straightforward. The only clear agenda satisfied is the current Labour paradigm whereby any problem that might conceivably be solved by a massive and costly database should be so. As well as a nascent identity card scheme, the UK also has the world’s largest DNA database and ContactPoint holds details of every child in the UK under the age of 18.
With the current national deficit nothing short of astronomic (8) there was hope that the identity card scheme would be quietly dropped. It is unnecessary and costly and threatens the civil liberties of UK subjects. It has also been so beset by setbacks (9) that were it a private sector project it undoubtedly have been canned some time ago. Indeed, if the next administration is led by any party other than Labour it will be – the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have both said they will scrap it. But our floundering government would rather push ahead with this costly, invasive and useless idea than consider the taxpayer, never mind come to their senses and start to trust the public.
1) For two different views on Manchester’s first day see: ID cards now available. Count me out, Dave Page, the Guardian, November 30, 2009 and Angela Epstein, the UK’s first ID card holder, Angela Epstein, Jewish Chronicle, December 3, 2009
(2) Overseas identity card schemes do have an accompanying database and are not comparable
(3) As specified by the Identity Card Act, 2006 See: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/ukpga_20060015_en_1#3
(4) Today programme, BBC, Monday 16th November
(5) ID card scheme ‘to cost £5.6bn’, BBC News, November 8, 2007
(6) See: The LSE Identity Project Report (PDF), London School of Economics and Political Science, 2005
(7) ID cards ‘wouldn’t stop attacks’, BBC News, July 8, 2005
(8) Bank bailout cost hits £850 bln, Kistin Ridley, Reuters, December 4, 2009
(9) See ID cards: Seven years of missed deadlines and U-turns, Nick Heath, Silicon.com, December 2, 2009
nb: this article first published on Forth.ie where someone commented:
‘It’s a cliche but a true one – if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear’