editorial - SchNEWS, 3 September 2004
In May 1995 SchNEWS reported our fears about ID cards (SchNEWS 24). This May we voiced our fears again (SchNEWS 454), and reported on the proposed Children's Bill which will create a database of every child in the country (SchNEWS 452).
Last Month, Richard Thomas, a big fan of SchNEWS and The Government's 'Information Commissioner' did an interview in the Times, in which he said almost exactly the same stuff as we've been saying for years. He outlined his fears that Britain could be "sleepwalking into a surveillance society"and specifically mentioned the Children's Bill as he outlined how Britain could become "like East Germany or Franco's Spain".
Home Secretary David Blunkett is carrying on with his plans regardless. A bill authorising the creation of a National ID Card Register will appear in the Queen's Speech in November and is supported by both Neo-Labour and the Tories. This register of peoples' personal details linked to biometric information has had Blunkett getting all hot under the collar for a long time, claiming it will solve everything from illegal working and benefit fraud to crime and terrorism.
The whole point of illegal working is that it's all cash in hand, no-questions asked. How an ID card would stop this SchNEWS can't quite figure out. In the case of illegal immigration, if someone is entering the country illegally they're most likely to 'vanish' and end up exploited by unscrupulous employers earning very little and doing many jobs that no-one else wants to do. An ID card system will just mean that anyone who doesn't look "British" will be harassed more than ever, with immigration services and police demanding to see people's ID cards.
Blunkett and Co. reckon ID cards will make it easier to access public services, as a single piece of identity will help prove you are entitled to public services. But hang on, what about yer National Insurance number? ID fraud is a tiny fraction of total benefit fraud, a big proportion of which occurs through people forgetting to mention a couple of hours cash in hand work they do each week to top up their crap benefits. "Health tourism" would be stopped with the ID card (yes, tourists apparently come over here to use our world class health system - while British people go over to Europe for theirs!) Ignoring Blunkett's policy line, John Hutton, Minister for Health admitted that "it is the case of course that you can have entitlement to NHS care, but not an ID card and it is perfectly possible that you could have an ID card, but not be entitled to NHS care." Er, we think the government just shot itself in the foot there. And of course as you rush to accident and emergency, nurses will have plenty of time to check everyone's ID card by taking their fingerprint before providing treatment...
But the most hyped argument the government likes to use is cracking down on organised crime and terrorism. Well for a start fake ID cards will provide a lucrative business for organised crime, and secondly the Met Police have admitted that the introduction of an identity card would not of itself lead to a reduction in crime or an increase in detection rates. The people involved in the 9/11 attacks had either legitimate identification papers or very compelling forgeries. Spain has a compulsory ID card which totally failed to stop the Madrid bombings. A Privacy International study found that "of the 25 countries that have been most adversely affected by terrorism since 1986, 80% have national identity cards, one third of which incorporate biometrics".
Police, Inland Revenue, Customs & Excise, Security Services and the Department for Work and Pensions will all have access to your file. There's likely to be data sharing with other countries such as the USA. And private companies like banks and insurance companies will have the right to look at your ID cards and make a check on you. People administrating the system will also of course have access to your records. But the one person who won't be able to access your own personal details is...YOU! Yes, that's right a whole load of government and private agencies can know everything about you, but you'll have bugger all right to look at your own details and no way of knowing if they're correct.
Considering the record of companies administrating government computer systems it's time to get worried. Each month 100 people are falsely accused of having criminal records by Capita who run the criminal records bureau. Can we really trust them with running a scheme for 47 million people?
Another company seeking involvement is NEC who have Automated Fingerprint Identification software, considered to be the best on the market, claiming to be 99.3% accurate. So 420,000 people in the UK can expect to be mistakenly identified. Another company is Identix who have a $27m, 5 year deal with the US Department of Homeland Security. Recently Identix paid $3 million to settle a Class Action lawsuit for overstating revenues to artificially inflate the company's stock price.
As government doesn't want to appear draconian, the ID card will be voluntary. So voluntary that you'll need one to work, drive a car, travel abroad, use the banking or health system, vote, buy a house, or receive benefits. The draft bill which proposes the ID card contains provisions for the card to be made compulsory at a later date.
Through compulsory identification, the state is set to acquire unprecedented surveillance powers over all of us. In the current climate of eroding civil liberties and lack of democratic accountability, it can only be expected that these powers will be used to extend government invasion into our daily lives, buttress social inequalities and stifle political dissent.
SchNEWS reckons we should get our camcorders and cameras out and follow pro-ID polititians and policemen around, documenting their lives. If they get annoyed about this invasion of their privacy, remember the Blunkett mantra: "Nothing to hide - nothing to fear."
ID Maths Box
Cost of ID card system according to the Home Office, excluding the expense of biometric readers and other equipment to be installed in other Departments -
£1.3 to £3.1 billion
This is to save -
£50 million in benefit ID fraud
£200 million in health tourism
Hardly good value for money.
- SchNEWS (3rd September 2004)