In the last post I mentioned about the way Blair’s Government is riding roughshod over Britain’s historic freedoms. This is one of the reasons I have objected to the Government’s plan to introduce compulsory ID cards, along with a giant database storing information on every citizen. It has all the signs of an Orwellian Big Brother system.
I was encouraged that on the evening of 11th July, the Home Office announced that its ID card project could be significantly delayed. (According to original plans, the cards were set to first appear in 2008.) Although the Government hasn’t given a new date, a Home Office spokesman has said that the process will be ‘incremental.’
In a leaked email correspondence between senior officials, it was suggested that ministers are considering postponing the plan for a generation or even scrapping it altogether.
The correspondence was between Peter Smith, acting commercial director at the Identity and Passport Service and David Foord, the ID card project director at the Office of Government Commerce. In the exchange, Foord admitted that ‘we are setting ourselves up to fail.’
Other officials are worried that there is insufficient technology, staff and finances to make the plan feasible. ‘Nobody expects this programme to work’ said one official involved in the project. ‘It is basically on hold while ministers rethink their options. It’s impossible to imagine the full scheme being brought in before 2026.’
Another reason the Government may have backed down is because of public opposition to the scheme. 12,171 people have signed a pledge refusing to participate in the plan that could cost the Government as much as £19 billion. Each signatory has also donated towards a fund for the legal defence of those who refuse to comply.
It is also possible that the Government may keep to its original goals but give the public more time to get inured to the idea. On 11th July a Home Office spokesman announced that ‘It is an incremental process and it will happen when the time is right.’
If the Identity Card Act 2006 does come into full force – whenever that is - the function of the cards will initially be limited.
Each person’s card will be linked to the National Identity Register, a giant database recording 50 different categories of ‘registrable fact’ on every citizen. The information on the card will be a small (yet to be defined) subset of the Register data. There is no guarantee that each person’s profile will not be extended to eventually include information on religion, political leanings, purchasing habits, etc.
The campaign group NO2ID, which opposes ID cards on principle, is concerned about ‘function creep’, whereby the cards progressively acquire more uses until all public life depends on them. This began to occur when ID cards were used in this country during and after World War II. Initially they just had three purposes, but by the time they were abolished in 1952, the cards had acquired 39 different administrative functions, mostly for peaceful rather than wartime uses.
On 19th March, Henry Porter imagined what British society might look like if function creep occurs. Writing in the Observer, Mr. Porter suggested that eventually
"You will need the card when you receive prescription drugs, when you withdraw a relatively small amount of money from a bank, check into hospital, get your car unclamped, apply for a fishing licence, buy a round of drinks (if you need to prove you’re over 18), set up an internet account, fix a residents’ parking permit or take out insurance.
Every time that card is swiped, the central database logs the transaction so that an accurate plot of your life is drawn. The state will know everything that it needs to know; so will big corporations, the police, the Inland Revenue, HM Customs, M15 and any damned official or commercial busybody that wants access to your life."
ID card systems do exist in other European countries, but few resemble the Identity Card Act 2006. The UK plan is more akin to schemes operating in various Middle Eastern countries and China. In France and Italy, which have only recently introduced biometric cards, information is stored only on the cards themselves – thus still within possession of the individual. Furthermore, other European countries have legal safeguards not included in the UK scheme.
The Government claims that 73% of criticizes were in favour of ID cards. However, two thirds of those who were asked did not actually know what the Act involved. Most people simply believe the Government’s claim that the cards will be a means of preventing terrorism and illegal immigration. Few know that when the Act comes into full force the following things will occur.
Everyone will be expected to attend an appointment at one of the Government’s 69 new ‘enrolment centres’. You will be photographed, have your fingerprints taken and your irises scanned and then be registered on the National Identity Database. Refusal to comply will be classed as a criminal act. The cards are expected to cost about £93, which every citizen will be forced to pay when getting a new passport from 2010. Further changes will be incurred every time you need to change your details.
Failure to promptly inform the National Identity Register of relevant changes in your personal life will lead to a fine of up to £1,000.
If your card becomes lost or defective and you fail to promptly inform the police, you will be fined and/or made to serve up to 51 weeks in jail.
The powers of the Home Secretary to extend and alter the scheme by regulation are unlimited.
Reliance on administrative penalties could mean severe punishments can be inflicted independent of normal judicial process. This reverses the burden of proof: officials are considered right unless you take them to court to prove their decision was wrong within rules set by them.
INVALIDITY AND SURRENDER
Section 11 of the ID card Act deals with ‘invalidity and surrender of ID cards.’ Provision is given to ‘The Secretary of State [to] cancel an ID card if it appears to him...that another change of circumstances requires a modification of information recorded in or on the card...’ In such a case, the Home Secretary is allowed to make decision and to act upon information, without being required to make proper enquiries.
Analysts have pointed out that if ID cards are eventually used for identity verification by banks, hospitals, register of electors, internet providers, doctor’s surgeries and various other civic functions, then when the Secretary of State confiscates someone’s card, he would be withdrawing that person’s ability to function in the state. It would act like a kind of civic eraser. Scenarios like that have already occurred in Eastern Europe under communism.
NO2ID have expressed concerns that potential administrative failures could lead to similar consequences:
‘By making ordinary life dependent on the reliability of a complex administrative system, the scheme makes myriad small errors potentially catastrophic. There’s no hint from the government how it will deal with inevitably large numbers of mis-identifications and errors, or deliberate attacks on or corruption of what would become a critical piece of national infrastructure. A failure in any part of the system at a check might deny a person access to his or her rights or property or to public services, with no immediate solution or redress – “license to live” withdrawn.’
To receive automatic notification every time new material is added to this blog, send a blank email to largerhope @ tiscali.co.uk with “Blog Me” in the subject heading. (Note: for anti-spam purposes, this email address has had spaced inserted before and after the @ sign. The address will only work after deleting these spaces).