- Safe Democracy Foundation - http://english.safe-democracy.org -

Identity Cards in the UK

ukcards.jpgThe author argues that, despite the Labour Government’s best efforts, the proposed plan for ID cards in the UK will almost certainly be a key topic for debate in the run up to the next general election, as it is a controversial policy that affects citizens in numerous ways, such as by directly challenging our accepted civil liberties. Will this very costly expenditure even make the UK any safer?

(From Edinburgh) BEGINNING IN NOVEMBER OF THIS YEAR, Biometric Identity Cards will be issued to all non-EU nationals who come to the UK. They will be the first ID cards issued by the Labour Government under a controversial policy that aims to see all UK citizens in possession of one by 2017.

“The issue of these ID cards is controversial and unsurprisingly has attracted criticism from a variety of sources” Surely, Parliament’s passage of the Identity Card Act 2006 was greatly aided by the government’s concession that Members of Parliament would be granted a vote before the ID cards could become compulsory.

The Government argues that the cards will: protect citizens from identity theft and fraud; combat illegal labour and immigration abuse; make it more difficult for criminals and those involved in terrorist activity to use false or multiple identities; and ensure that free public services be used by those who are entitled to them. All card details will be held by the Home Office on the National Identity Register.

The issue of these ID cards is controversial and unsurprisingly has attracted criticism from a variety of sources, which attack it on many different grounds.

ANOTHER BLOW TO CIVIL LIBERTIES

“The implementation of this scheme will be overly expensive and fraught with difficulty, and will ultimately be a waste of money that could be better used to fund a Border Control Police Force” Civil liberty campaigners argue that this is yet another invasion of our privacy by the state, following in the footsteps of an increase in closed-circuit television (CCTV) coverage, the recent introduction of the 42-day detention rule and the DNA database in 2004 that not only keeps records of those convicted of a crime, but also those who are simply charged for a crime.

Campaigner groups for minorities have raised concerns that identity cards pose yet another obstacle for those trying to settle in the UK, which is directly related to the debate over the Police’s power to stop and search.

In November 2007, the Government lost 25 million records containing the name, address and date of birth of every child in the country, along with the bank account details and national insurance numbers of 10 million parents, guardians, and caretakers. There have been several similar cases, and although they have not been on the same scale, they are nonetheless cause for concern.

A HEFTY PRICE TAG

Critics also argue that the implementation of this scheme will be overly expensive and fraught with difficulty, and will ultimately be a waste of money that could be better used to fund a Border Control Police Force, which would be far more effective in curbing illegal immigration and human trafficking and preventing terrorists from entering the UK. “A government commissioned report recommended that the British public would reject the Identity Card unless it were free of charge” According to the government’s prediction, the plan will cost £5.4 billion to implement; however, the independent London School of Economics [1] estimates that the real cost will be closer to £20 billion.

The ID cards will cost a minimum of £93 per person, and that figure is likely to increase. Furthermore, if a card is stolen or needs to be replaced after marriage, payment will be required for a new one, and if a relative dies, failure to return the ID card could result in a £1,000 fine. Altogether, the introduction of the scheme is likely to cost each taxpayer £200.

A government commissioned report recommended that the British public would reject the Identity Card unless it were free of charge, yet the government still plans on billing taxpayers for them.

WILL THEY EVEN WORK?

Critics also contend that ID cards will not protect against illegal immigration or terrorism since they don’t apply to those coming to the UK for less than 3 months. “The true cost may only be realised when, at some point in the future, we seek the return of lost liberties” Charles Clark himself, the government’s former Home Secretary, has admitted that identity cards would not have prevented the 7th July 2005 bombings in London. Moreover, identity cards are compulsory in Spain, yet this did not prevent the Madrid bombings in March 2004. Even the former Head of MI5 Security Service, Stella Rimington, has spoken out against them, saying that most documents could be forged, which would thus render the ID cards useless.

The Conservative Party opposes the plan to introduce the ID cards, and it has pledged to abandon the scheme if it wins the next election, while the Liberal Democrat Party believes that the cards constitute even more intrusion and effectively add another tax.

Despite the Labour Government’s best efforts, the proposed plan for ID cards will almost certainly be a key topic for debate in the run up to the next general election, as it is a controversial policy that affects citizens in numerous ways, such as by directly challenging our accepted civil liberties, including the right to privacy. Should citizens trust the state with this much personal information? While the introduction of this policy will come at a substantial cost to citizens of the UK, both individually and collectively, the true cost may only be realised when, at some point in the future, we seek the return of lost liberties.