Arguments against ID cards.

This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 13 February 2006, written by Philip Johnston.

It is a useful summary of the position as the Blair government prepared yet again to try to push through its plans through Parliament.


Ten reasons to oppose the ID cards

Today, MPs have the opportunity to kill off the Government's wretched ID cards scheme and perform a lasting service to the nation. If they vote to uphold the Lords amendment - which removes the automatic registration of everyone applying for a new passport - the project will be scuppered, since it relies on "backdoor compulsion" to get off the ground.

As the Commons prepares for this momentous debate, here are 10 statements made by proponents of the ID scheme that are questionable, to say the least:

1. The Government's ID card is voluntary."

It is not. If you want to get a new passport from 2008, you will be automatically registered on the national ID register. You will have to go to one of 70 centres and have both iris prints, all fingerprints and a photograph taken, and pay close to 100 for the privilege. Therefore, compulsion is built in from the outset

2. "Data on the register will not be handed over to outside agencies."

Safeguards in the Bill are meant to ensure that details on the register - which will contain 51 different pieces of personal information - are available only to the law enforcement agencies and certain government departments. However, there are plans well advanced under the EU's Hague programme to share access to all EU databases with police forces across Europe.

3. "Biometric technology is foolproof."

It is not. Even the most trustworthy biometric - the iris print - can give false-positive or false-negative readings. Under an ID scheme, thousands of people face the inconvenience and frustration of being unable to go about their business because the readers say they are someone else, while criminals continue to break the law.

4. "The scheme will cost 584 million a year to operate."

This suspiciously exact, yet still vast sum is the cost to the Home Office alone of issuing the ID cards and passports. It does not take into account the cost to other departments of installing thousands of biometric readers across the land or of the upkeep of the register. The London School of Economics put the total cost over 10 years in a range of l0.6 billion to 19.2 billion.

5."Britain needs an lD card to fall into line with other nations."

While other countries are moving to biometric passports, none is developing a national ID register on the scale proposed here.

6. "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

It depends what you mean by fear - and whether we value what is left of our privacy. Once your name is on the ID register, it will be a criminal offence, subject to a fine of 1,000, not to say when you move home. Every time your card is checked against the central register, a record will be made on the database saying when it took place and to whom the information was given.

7. "ID cards were in Labour's election manifesto."

True, but the Government presented it to the public as a voluntary, rather than compulsory, scheme (see above). Also, Labour can hardly claim a popular mandate with less than a quarter of the total vote.

 8. "Most people are in favour of ID cards."

The most recent YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph showed that backing for ID cards has plummeted from 78 per cent less than two years ago to 45 per cent.

9. "ID cards will help counter terrorism."

Of the 25 countries worst hit by terrorism over the past 20 years, 80 per cent had national ID cards; almost two thirds of terrorists operated under their real identities.

10. "The Government has won the argument in principle."

Ministers have turned this into a debate about cost and efficacy. But the greatest beneficiary of an ID scheme is not the ordinary individual; it is the state, since its agencies gain access to information they would not otherwise have. There are still some poor, misguided souls who object in principle to being forced to register as a numbered citizen on a national identity database.


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