Tuesday, October 10, 2006

ID cards and the surveillance state

New Labour’s announcement that implementation of its ID card scheme will cost an estimated £5.4 billion – which is bound to be far below the true cost - is just one of many reasons to oppose this further extension of the surveillance state. At the heart of the ID scheme is the National Identity Register. When completed, the NIR would be the world’s biggest biometric database, holding 52 pieces of information on every adult who remains in the UK for longer than three months. Bypassing existing data protection laws, the information would be swapped between different state agencies. Add in the increasing sophistication of CCTV and Britons will become the most watched people on the planet.

Each week the government comes up with another wretched reason to justify ID cards. As Shami Chakrabarti, director for Liberty said: "Excuses for ID cards are like a many-headed Hydra, shoot one down and another one pops up. Including everything from illegal immigration to anti-terrorism, no doubt at some point ID cards will be the cure to obesity and global warming as well." In its opposition to ID cards, Liberty says that the ID cards scheme:

  • will fundamentally change the relationship between individual and state
  • will have a detrimental impact on race relations and will adversely affect vulnerable groups in society
  • will intrude on privacy as the amount of information held on the database and the uses made of that information will increase dramatically
  • will have no impact on illegal immigration as asylum seekers have been required to carry ID cards since 2000
  • will not protect the UK from terrorist attacks. The men responsible for the 9/11 and Madrid terrorist attacks had valid identification
  • will have minimal impact on benefit fraud, as this is usually about financial circumstances rather than identity
  • will not stop identity fraud as this mostly takes place remotely via the Internet

NO2ID has warned that ID cards will give unchecked powers to the executive. Data entered onto the NIR is arbitrarily presumed to be accurate, and the Home Secretary made a judge of accuracy of information provided to him. Meanwhile, the Home Office gets the power to enter information without informing the individual. But there’s no duty to ensure that such data is accurate, or criterion of accuracy. Personal identity is implicitly made wholly subject to state control.

The campaign group warns: "Without reference to the courts or any appeals process, the Home Secretary may cancel or require surrender of an identity card, without a right of appeal, at any time. Given that the object of the scheme is that an ID card will be eventually required to exercise any ordinary civil function, this amounts to granting the Home Secretary the power of civic life and death." The slide to the police state continues unabated.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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