Conservative Home

« James Morris: Reinventing Policymaking as an Open Party | Main | Oberon Houston: Britain is not working »

Keith Standring: No to ID Cards

StandringkeithKeith Standring was a regular soldier in the Grenadier Guards before working for over thirty years in British Intelligence.  He is a member of the Conservative Party, The Freedom Association and a supporter of The Bruges Group.

“The Bill is designed to print across our foreheads a human barcode. Those who do not wish to understand the seriousness of what the Bill represents in terms of the change in the culture and society in which we live are failing in their duties as representatives of the public."   

- Edward Garnier QC, Conservative MP for Harborough in the Standing Committee debate.

The simplistic argument that if one has nothing to hide then one has nothing to fear ignores the infringement of civil liberties that the imposition of Identity Cards would represent and totally overlooks the practical problems implicit in administering the system.

It is well known that any form of documentation from a Passport to a 100 Euro note is obtainable from counterfeiters and it is improbable that forged ID cards will not also be available, in spite of the use of ‘state of the art’ technology. On the admission of no less a person than the Secretary of State for Trade & Industry some 15 million National Insurance numbers cannot be accounted for. In the realms of agriculture the British Cattle Movement Service has lost 93,000 identities in one year alone (2003) in spite of being established only 6 years ago in purpose built accommodation equipped with the very latest in computerised systems. Examples of where Government run any service efficiently and well are difficult to identify. That they will administer ID cards any more efficiently is open to question.

Government claims that ID cards will help to stamp out illegal immigration, organised crime, terrorism and social security fraud. The reality is that the introduction of ID cards will impose a burden upon millions of bona fide law abiding British subjects (i.e. the majority) whilst failing to tackle the underlying problem which is that, for whatever reason, the army of civil servants that we are employing and which, in the main, are answerable to the Home Office and the Department of Health & Social Security, are failing to discharge their function in a satisfactory way. Instead of concentrating upon improving the performance of the departments for which it alone is responsible, Government, as always, tries to shift the spotlight elsewhere, hence ID cards as the panacea for all the ills of the public sector.

Even without ID cards it is practically inconceivable that a bona fide British subject would have difficulty establishing his or her identity (birth certificate, driving licence, passport, pension book, utility bill, National Insurance number etc). On the other hand, an illegal immigrant armed with a forged ID card would instantly acquire legitimacy to which he was not entitled and which he would not otherwise have.

There is little or no evidence to demonstrate that in countries with ID cards the incidence of offences in the categories highlighted by Government are any less. Identity cards in both countries did nothing to stop the 9/11 bombing of the Twin Towers being planned in Germany nor the explosions on passenger trains in Spain.

At the time of writing this the 3rd reading of the ID Cards Bill has only just passed through the House of Commons, even though, to try to hurry the Bill through the last parliamentary session the government had put "knives" on the Committee stage of the Bill (a method of severely restricting the amount of time the Committee had to review the Bill). The Bill has now gone to the House of Lords, but even before that, the House of Lords Constitutional Committee has roundly condemned it because amongst other things it "fundamentally alters the relationship between citizens and state" and does not contain proper safeguards.

The ID card proposals have been dubbed a "farce"; with the biometric technology unable to correctly identify such features as brown eyes and baldheads. Technologists are lining up to criticise the proposals in the Bill, from examples of how multiple "layered" biometrics increase false or failed identification, to even Microsoft saying that it will lead to "massive fraud". Yet the government still continues with the proposals, with hardly an amendment. It has even been revealed that the government has already committed to spending £17 million on consultants to assist with the preparation of the Bill and the priming of government departments.

The Telegraph reports that the Home Office is already inviting companies to consider bidding for ID card contracts, without the Bill even having become law, and has even gone so far as to advertise in the Official Journal of the European Union on August 9th. There are also reports of the close connections to New Labour from within the prospective bidding companies.

This undemocratic and arrogant behaviour flies in the face of the proposal's lack of political or public support - the latest polls show only 25% in favour of the scheme if it cost £6 billion (the latest government estimate) falling to only 10% in favour if it costs £10-£19 billion (£19.2 billion is the estimate made by the independent report from the London School of Economics) - source YouGov poll.

Even with the hollow promise of a fixed £30 cost for a stand-alone ID card, to bribe wavering Labour MPs, the Home Secretary has yet to produce any figures for the government's costing of the proposals. Figures in the region of £3bn centrally + £72 per person have been bandied about and the view might reasonably be taken that this money would be better spent strengthening the forces of law and order rather than on a project of dubious benefit. The strong suspicion remains that the real reason why the Home Secretary is pushing for ID cards is to satisfy the European Union.

Meanwhile thanks to the growing efforts of many, opposition continues to be built to this authoritarian Bill.

"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities".                           

- Tony Blair, at the 1995 Labour Party conference in Brighton.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.