David Aaronovitch, usually a lucid and intelligent commentator, is just so completely wrong in his article on ID cards published in the Guardian on Tuesday 23rd September 2003.
Why I can't wait for my identity card
Tuesday September 23, 2003
"Ihre Papiere bitte!" barks the bloke in the black uniform, while a second guard adjusts the strap of his Schmeisser. Time seems to stand still in the fuggy railway compartment as the escaped airmen wonder whether their crude forgeries will withstand this scrutiny. The chap in the cap looks up...
Somewhere in the national psyche - indeed in the Anglophonic psyche - this image seems to be engraved. Granite-headed fascists and Stalinists in Britain or Australia will jib at the idea of carrying an identity card, whereas the milkiest liberals in Germany, France and Portugal - where they actually lived under occupation or totalitarianism - think nothing of it. Eleven out of 15 nations of the EU currently require their citizens to possess ID cards, and
But ID Cards have NOT helped ANY of those countries to eliminate or even significantly reduce terrorism, serious crime or illegal immigration ! They simply do not work !
yet if a proposal to introduce them here in Britain is to be included in the Queen's Speech - as David Blunkett wants - the balloon will go up. Whatever it is they do on the continent, if it is done here, it will somehow usher in a new Dark Age.
It is quite sneaky to argue that the "continent" has only one single ID Card policy. In Germany, for example, the ID card number is, by law, NOT allowed to be used as a central identifier to access central government databases, which is what David Blunkett seems to be proposing.
The home secretary doesn't make life easy for us London types. He can hardly bear to pass us by without delivering a kick to our delicate sensibilities. So this weekend, when elaborating on his support for a new ID card, he claimed that it would - among other things - ensure that "people don't work if they are not entitled to work, they don't draw on services which are free in this country, including health, unless they are entitled to." But, like many Guardian readers, I secretly approve of people getting things to which they are not entitled, just so long as they are not rich or white. And, of course, as we all know, Blunkett also wishes to exercise Orwellian levels of power over his fellow Britons, because that is the kind of thing that politicians do.
Unfortunately, the record of the last three Home Secretaries, Michael Howard (Con), Jack Straw (Lab) and David Blunkett (Lab) shows that they all seem to have "gone native" and have been willing to espouse any ill thought out Home Office policies, provided that they could claim the political kudos for being "tough on criminals/immigrants/terrorists" etc
So who wants it? The fuzz do, because they reckon it would make apprehending criminals and bail-jumpers much easier if they could check cards on hand-held card-readers.
WRONG! The Police do NOT have a problem with identifying suspects once they have their hands on them, they have problems with sufficent EVIDENCE of a crime. Given the Blunkett/Home Office plan to allow people not to have to carry their ID Cards all the time (even though registration would be compulsory), what possible difference could they make to the apprehension of bail-jumpers ?
Social service managers do.
WRONG! Most of the ?3 billion a year fraud in the Social Security empire is NOT due to IDENTITY fraud, it is due to people claiming extra benifits illegally e.g. extra relatives, claiming benefits whilst employed, housing benefit fraud through collusion with landlords etc
Health service managers do.
WRONG! Most "health tourists" do not hide themselves in cross channel lorries or trains, but arrive on legal visas and passports, they would be allowed to get themselves an ID Card anyway.
An ID card could assist those who are entitled to support to get it more quickly.
WRONG! If everyone has a compulsory ID Card, the queues for service remain the same, apart from the extra delays caused by checking the ID Card itself.
The banks would quite like it, because it would establish a single method of identification.
WRONG! The banks and credit card companies have steered well clear of being forced to run an ID Card infrastructure for free.
In France, where the ID card is not compulsory, 90% of the population carry it all the time anyway, because it is convenient and - so far - the French have managed to stave off a collapse into 1984-style totalitarianism.
BUT they still have massive Illegal Immigrant problems despite the ID Card and there are, frankly, racist abuses by the authorities when checking IDs of Algerian French people.
Here we can confidently expect everyone on the left to oppose it and everybody on the right to support it, but only for other people. Charles Kennedy, Political Leader of the Month (September), describes the idea of the cards as "fundamentally illiberal". The civil rights group, Liberty, argues that ordinary people would be "criminalised" if they refused to carry the cards. A trump argument will be that their introduction may increase the harassment suffered by ethnic minorities at the hands of the authorities.
Have you forgotten the way that the "sus" laws were actaully used to police the streets of Britain ?
Then there will be a job lot of practical arguments to suggest that any scheme will cost too much, be subject to massive fraud and won't work anyway because the computers will fail. Whichever particular scheme is eventually chosen by the government, it will - of necessity - be the worst scheme available.
A compulsory ID system for the 60 million or so people in the UK would be orders of magnitude more complicated and prone to cost overruns than any of the Government IT computer projects mishandled by Government in collaboration with such PFI contractors such as Capita and EDS.
The planned use of Biometric Identifiers means that there is no scope for postal applications or renewals - you will have to queue up at authorised iris scanners etc, reducing the effective productivity of the entire country by a couple of working days a year.
Well, electronic tagging works when everyone said it wouldn't.
There are only a few thousand people who are electronically tagged, this is NOT a valid comparison with a 60 million plus person ID Card system. According to the Observer, electronic tagging costs ?500 a month per offender - the Treasury might have qualms about those sort of sums for 60 million of us !
At a purely practical level, it would be rather wonderful to combine an EU passport, driving licence, bank card, library card, social security card, medical number, AA card, workplace entrycard, gym card and Tottenham Hotspur season ticket. A bit of a bugger if you lose it, though. And if fraud and impersonation were really insuperable problems, then we wouldn't have any of the aforesaid cards in any case - we would just roll up to the bank and ask for some money, and they would decide on the look of us whether to pay out.
Biometric Identifiers are being touted as the solution to forgery problems - but they simply do not work for 60 million people!. Biometric Identifiers are just DIGITAL COPIES of images of fingerprints or iris scans - they can be as easily forged , copiesd, or stolen in secret by any cheap digital camera.
"Biometrics the password you can never revoke, even when it is compromised"
But there is also a principled set of reasons for people on the left to support ID cards. In my case, the liberal and the social democrat are always contending. What is convenient or aesthetic for the individual is not, unfailingly, what is good for society. Take MMR as an example. Much though I would like to indulge neurotic parents' right to their neuroses, I don't want to do it at the expense of public health. So when Liberty talks of ID cards turning people into "suspects not citizens", I am bound to ask whether Liberty actually has any concept of the duties - as opposed to the rights - of citizenship. We British do not, it seems to me, demand very much of "citizens" in return. There is no national service, no semi-compulsory social work, no duty - as the Swiss have - to sweep in front of your front door. We are asked to do very little - perhaps jury service once a lifetime, and many of us manage to avoid even that.
So how do you expect a Compulsory ID Card, which will cost ?40 on top of the cost of a driving licence or passport to instill more social responsability ?
But if we are going to have an immigration policy, then it must be policed.
Asylum seekers ALREADY get a smart ID card with their iris scan and fingerprint.
If there is such a thing as being entitled to services, then it means little if those who are not entitled also claim.
We are ALREADY entitled to the public services which we are paying taxes for, paying ?40 for an ID card makes no difference to these existing rights. It would be morally wrong to create a 2 tier system, normal service for those with ID cards, second class service for those without, which given the scale of implementing an ID Card system, will be te case for many years, even amongst the population of those entitled to the benefits or services.
What I find sinister are the other systems - the inevitable alternatives to ID cards - that dole out cards only to claimants, asylum-seekers, or to those with work permits. But if we all have a card - a citizen's card - then it puts us all on an equal footing as citizens. If everyone has to carry an ID card, almost as an act of civic solidarity, then we will all be Spartacus
N.B. Spartacus was a slave gladiator who led an armed rebellion against the evil Roman Empire - is that really what David Aaronovitch forsees for us ?
We have serious doubts about the deliberately
vague Home Office/David Blunkett proposals for a compulsory ID Card.
N.B. the people at www.stand.org.uk have also written a letter to the Guardian, refuting this article by David Aaronovitch