This would be the first time identity cards have been carried in the UK since 1952, when wartime identity documents were scrapped as they were considered to be hindering the work of the police, due to the resentment that being asked to produce papers produced. So what are the reasons given for introducing them now?
The obvious reason for introducing ID cards was for them to be another measure against terrorism. However, it is generally accepted that, in fact, ID cards would have little effect against this form of crime. The thrust of the present proposals is in fact to reduce benefit (social security) fraud, and identity theft.
So, how do they plan to do this? The cards are expected to include the basic identification data of a photograph, name, address, and date of birth, but also will store electronically information such as fingerprints, or iris data. It will also contain some form of unique identifier, though whether it will be a new number or the present National Insurance (social security) number is not known.
The UK government wishes to show itself as neutral on the issue, but Home Secretary David Blunkett has said "I am not going to disguise my own enthusiasm for an entitlement card system."
The Superintendents' Association, the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers have all welcomed the scheme, claiming it will help them do their jobs, specifically in relation to benefit fraud. John Abbott, the director general of the National Criminal Intelligence Service agrees, stating it could help in other areas of organised crime.
There are a number of backbench MPs from various parties who object to the idea in principle. These include Peter Lilley, a Conservative ex Cabinet Minister and David Winnick, a Labour member of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Civil liberties groups, such as Liberty and Charter88 are also firmly against the scheme.
So why am I writing this? Well, I believe that despite present public support in the UK for such a scheme, an introduction of it will be impractical, divisive, and either pointless or draconian. The present scheme can be either voluntary or compulsory. A voluntary identity card scheme seems to me to be eminently pointless. It therefore seems to me that any scheme introduced will be either compulsory de jure or de facto, by making it impossible to function in society without a card.
For the system to work as it is intended, there will be a large amount of information on each citizen that needs to be collected and stored in a central database. This may include work status, salary information, criminal record, ethnic origin, etc. I believe that allowing the government to hold this information on all citizens is an affront to the right to privacy, and goes fundamentally against the nature of British society. I believe that allowing the introduction of identity cards will exacerbate differences in the UK society, and cause resentment among many ethnic groups.
The scheme would probably be funded by incorporating into it the present photo driving licenses, and passports. The charges for these would have to rise. The charges would have to rise as the ID cards would be more complex than the passports and driving licenses, and require a more expensive back end system, to allow the storage of biometric data. Also, those who do not have either a driving license or passport will have a new cost. This means the very people who would require the card most, those on benefits, would also be the least able to afford it.
The whole scheme smacks to me of one thought up in haste, that will finally achieve the desires of many civil servants, that of logging and controlling the population of the country. I believe this should be resisted, as the requirement to carry an identity card automatically changes the status of every person from citizen to suspect.
What do other k5ers think? Most countries have some form of id, whether de jure or de facto. Am I, and the British civil liberties organisations, crying wolf? Or is there a real worry?
More information on the scheme can be found at the BBC News site, specifically "Blunkett backs ID card plan", "'State racism' fears over ID cards" and "Q&A - Identity cards".