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30 March, 2006

Not so big a deal

NØ2IDAfter the latest version of the ID cards legislation had been rejected by the House of Lords five times, the government has had a 'compromise' accepted.

The Lords' main objection was that cards were being linked to passport applications/renewals, and hence made compulsory in all but Charles Clarke's dream world. The apparent concession is that compulsory possession of a card has now been postponed from 2008 to 2010*. That's after the next General Election, and if elected the Conservatives are likely to repeal the legislation outright.
Who'd have thought I'd be hoping for a Tory government?

However, as with many aspects of this scheme, the headline statement is of limited relevance beyond being a misleading sales slogan. The cards themselves won't be compulsory until 2010, but anyone renewing a passport before then will be added to the national ID database, which is the real issue. The cards don't matter if the information is available by other means.

I suppose those for whom this really matters could renew their passports immediately, and hence avoid ID registration until 2016 (standard UK passports are valid for a decade). I wonder how the government plans to capture their data.

Two quick points from the BBC article:

Lord Armstrong [a 'cross-bencher' i.e. not formally affiliated with the Government or Opposition parties] said most of the information required for the database would have had to be disclosed as part of the passport application anyway.
"They are not actually seriously increasing the amount of information that is held about them deep inside government," he told BBC News.
Possibly true (define "seriously increasing", though – I object to any increase), but the National ID Register facilitates and legitimises access to that information by a far wider range of agencies, and changes the overt relationship between the state and the individual.
There was also "very restricted access" to the database, Lord Armstrong added.
Will the police have routine access to the Register? Yes? Then it's not restricted enough.

*: Technically, making ID cards compulsory would require further legislation, but 2010 is the most likely date for that, and I'm convinced the government will attempt to slide that one through Parliament as a fait accompli.

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