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30 November, 2004

ID cards coming - why?

NØ2IDThe BBC reports on the launch of the Identity Cards Bill by the Home Secretary.  Read the article for an... interesting representation of the pros and cons, but there are a few aspects I'd like to highlight.

ID cards will mean people have to give the state less information about themselves, Home Secretary David Blunkett has said.
That's the subtitle of the article, and something of a challenge to the concerns of many. Later in the piece, it's repeated in some sort of context:
Rather than requiring more information from people, he said the cards would ensure a 'less intrusive' way of collecting details than the national census.
Eh? That's appalling government double talk - 'supporting' an emotive statement by citing an entirely different issue.

I don't even agree with his assertion. Census data are collected by the completion of one form per household, once per decade; a snapshot of the population. Identity card data would be collected for each individual, who would need to keep the government informed of any changes (or face a £1,000 fine).
It's also worrying that the Home Secretary is conceptually linking these issues. The census collects a lot more, varied information, about many aspects of one's life, than the barest minimum required to prove one's identity - what exactly will be stored in the ID database?

The Prime Minister is quoted twice:

Tony Blair said ID cards would 'protect rather than erode civil liberties'.
Nice statement, but vacuous.
Mr Blair said the cards were not a 'silver bullet' to prevent terrorist attacks but nor did they produce 'Big Brother' government.
"They will help protect civil liberties, not erode them, because people will be able to produce their own identification," he said.
"I simply point out that without proper security then there can be no opportunity."
Another fine sounding yet ultimately meaningless phrase. This is the sort of thing with scares me about Blair: that he makes such empty pronouncements without offering any form of corroboration or testable criteria on which his claims can be assessed. The subtext is that the only reasonable action is to simply trust his words and intentions. I don't.

The Home Secretary makes that same point about the ID card enabling people to produce their own identification:

"Strengthening our identity is one way or reinforcing people's confidence and sense of citizenship and well-being," he told MPs.
"Know your true identity and being able to demonstrate it is a positive plus and is a basic human right which all of us should treasure."
As is the ability and right to withhold one's true identity. As I've said before, I don't want the government to know more than an absolute minimum about me, and demand the right to refuse access to data I don't think they need to have. I also demand the right to decide which agencies, governmental or non-governmental, obtain information about me, on a case-by-case basis.
The first cards would be issued in 2008 and Mr Blunkett has suggested Parliament could decide in 2011 or 2012 whether to make it compulsory for everybody to own the cards, although not to carry them.
I'm sure the government will milk it as a major concession, but as established earlier, that's a side-issue. Presence in the ID database is all that matters; for most purposes, the physical card itself is irrelevant.

So it's not going to be compulsory to carry the card, but:

The bill would ensure that access to 'specified public services' would be linked to production of a valid ID card.
Sounds pretty compulsory to me.

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