News Shorts And Other Business
ID Or Not ID …That Is The Serious Question
Squall 10, Summer 1995, pg. 6.
A national identity card system, in one form or another, is likely to be introduced next year - Despite fierce opposition from the Government’s own party and Baroness Thatcher.
In early April John Major promised the introduction of compulsory identity cards to help “deter crime and make it more likely that we will catch criminals.”
This appealed to the roused rabble of the Tory rank and file, but the Government quickly back-pedalled when libertarians within the party - led by the Conservative Way Forward (CWF) group objected on the grounds that it “would have very serious implications for the traditional liberties of the British people.”
The CWF is a right-wing pressure group headed by Baroness Thatcher. A pamphlet published by the group in April said: “There should be no requirement on the citizen to establish his or her identity unless suspected of a crime or applying for some state service, nor to explain why he or she chooses to be in a particular place.”
And Michael Stern, a Tory back bencher, said: “It’s alien to the way we live, we breathe, as free citizens in this country.”
Of course, more usual civil liberties groups objected on similar grounds, but it was the threat from his own party that chastened John Major and beelzebub himself Michael Howard, who produced the Green consultation paper in May.
Staunch right-wing xenophobes also oppose identity cards on the grounds that they will be the first step towards abandoning border controls with Europe. The May consultation paper outlined a much watered down approach. It detailed six possibilities that, according to Howard, are simply intended to stoke up the debate. He insist that the Government is “neutral” on the issue.
The six options are:
- Keeping the status quo, i.e. do nothing
- Identity Travel Card: A passport type card that could be used as a European travel document.
- Photographic Driving Licence: Likely to be introduced in July 1996 but could double up as an ID card.
- Driving Licence ID Card: A merging of the travel card and driving licence. Foreign nationals would have to apply for a parallel card.
- Multi-function Card: A card with name, date of birth and nationality written on it, an a micro chip containing more detailed information.
- Compulsory Card: The above options are more or less voluntary, the compulsory card could follow any of those models and speaks for itself. This could cost £600 million to introduce.
Despite the consultation photograph ID cards for motorists, and almost certainly for benefit claimants, will be in place by next year. This will cover about 70% of the population and is seen by some as ID cards through the back door. What the Government wants, the Government gets.
Social Security Secretary, Peter Lilley opposes the introduction of compulsory cards, but he does want them for benefit claimants in the belief that they will cut fraud.
Why he believes this is anyone’s guess considering that only five per cent of benefit fraud involves false identity.
The arguments against ID cards on the grounds of traditional liberty, that no-one should be treated like a criminal until they become one (or grows dreads) are obvious.
But there are also more pertinent arguments against their effectiveness in doing what they are designed to do.
There is however, little evidence that this is so.
The Green paper itself states: “The effect of an identity card scheme on crime more generally is difficult to quantify with any precision.” And it acknowledges that to be effective the police would need wider powers to check identity.
Ann Oweres, director of Justice (The British Sections of International Commission of Jurists) says: “To be effective, identity cards would have to be compulsory, regularly checked, and backed by national data bases, for example, of fingerprints, residence and immigration status. The card would be a gateway for future checks.”
This would undoubtedly lead to harassment of the young and those from non-British backgrounds as it has in France where the zero immigration policy has led to random checks at road blocks and metro stations of those who do not look French.
There is also the fear that such wider powers would be used to harass the travelling community, those who do not conform, and those who resist. Groups on whom databases are already being clandestinely drawn up.
Another problem is that of verifying and correcting the information held on an individual.
In early June, a trainee probation officer, Gareth Thomas, had his future career threatened when a routine security check identified him as someone from the same country, with the same name and near date of birth who had serve a two year sentence on a serious conviction ten years previously.
The security check came before Gareth’s first trip to a prison. He wasn’t told why he was denied entry and only found out what was wrong when his tutor rang to tell him she had been informed of the conviction by the Kent probation service, who had got it from the police’s national computer, and he would fail his course.
A few years ago Australia attempted to introduce ID cards with overwhelming public support. When the reality came to light this support turned to mass opposition. Indeed, in 1953 wartime ID cards in this country were abolished because they “tended to make people resentful of the action of the police.”