ID Cards – the beginning of the end

The ‘getting rid of identity cards’  Bill (for which I am the No2 and was on the front bench for the 2nd Reading this week) was, in a way, the culmination of a long-fought campaign by many groups- NO2ID, Liberty, LibDems andthe Conservatives et al. It felt so good to be able to take part beginning the process of getting rid of identity cards – and the database as well!

Damien Green, who leads for the coalition on ID cards, told the House during his closing remarks on the debate, that his one, single rebellion throughout his opposition years to a three line whip was on ID cards – so most fitting that he is the man to bury them!

It was pretty interesting to note too – when it came to the vote on 2nd Reading – Labour abstained. Given this was their cherished flagship policy – one might have thought they would vote against its imminent demise.

I long, long ago wrote an article on ID cards – which slightly amended and adapted – I have pasted below.

Our Liberal Democrat long standing opposition to ID cards was based on – well quite frankly – many many things.

Cost: ID cards would have cost a fortune and that cost would have been born by the public.

IT track record: the last Government hardly had a brilliant track record in introducing large scale IT systems. Systems in the Post Office, Air Traffic Control, Passport Office, Probation Service and the Child Support Agency, among others, ran massively over budget. Did anyone really expect the most ambitious system, for ID cards, to be any different?

Discrimination: ID cards would have lead to discrimination and harassment. As one of the given ex-Government reasons to introduce ID cards was to encourage the police to detect illegal immigrants and terrorist suspects, black and Asian people would inevitably have been disproportionately targeted. I have no doubt that what Labour introduced as voluntary would have, at the next opportunity, have been made compulsory. It is in their DNA – so to speak.

Confidentiality: The introduction of ID cards would have allowed our personal data to be shared without our consent. Even the tightest security would eventually have been breached. ID cards would only have held limited information but there are 52 categories of ‘limited’ information which would have built up a pretty comprehensive picture of us and our lives.

How could anyone guarantee that ID cards would not have been used to spy on citizens or restrict civil liberties? How could anyone guarantee that ID cards wouldn’t have eventually been used to monitor individuals or groups or restrict our entitlement to services? This was the thin end of the wedge – and given the Labour ex-Government’s predilection to pry and control……

Security: How safe would the National Database have been? The DVLA sells information. There would have inevitably been commercial pressures. The ID card would ultimately have been available to all government departments. Would it have stopped there? No – it would have been accessible under the principle of availability to all EU member state law agencies and so on. It would have been a target for fraudsters and a gift for those intending harm – legitimised by an ID card.

Effectiveness: Perhaps the most salient argument against ID cards was always that they would not have succeeded in any of the areas they claimed they would. ID cards would not have prevented benefit fraud. They would not have halted identity fraud or identity theft. They would not have stopped illegal working. They would not have assisted in the fight against crime or terrorism.

Some benefit fraud may have been prevented by forcing people to show an ID card when claiming benefits. ID cards would, however, have had no impact at all on the most common type of benefit fraud – people misrepresenting their circumstances rather than their identity. Countries that have ID cards still have benefit fraud.

Indeed, the value of ID cards as a guarantee of identity and the access they provide to valuable services would have   made them a target for forgery for criminals and fraudsters. They would have ushered in a new era of identity fraud and theft. Labour claimed that the technology couldn’t be forged, but I think history, had ID cards come into force fully, would have proved them wrong. It’s a common, common pattern – new encryption, new security, put it on a device that gets widely distributed, and it gets cracked. In a relatively recent case in Germany, criminals forged an ID card that included biometric data.

By forcing people to show their ID cards in applying for a job in the UK, the former Labour Government expected to prevent illegal working. That would not have happened. Industries with high levels of illegal labour are already required to check identities . ID cards would not have thwarted unscrupulous employers.

Similarly, ID cards would not have helped fight crime or terrorism. Generally, the police’s problem is not identifying those arrested but catching criminals in the first place. The terrorists responsible for 9/11 and the Madrid bombings all carried valid identity documents.

Knowing someone’s identity is different from knowing how they will behave – so let’s work on behaviour – ie the causes of crime. There’s a novel idea.