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Monday, October 13, 2003

Government split on ID cards good for democracy

Of course if you are a spin doctor then no government split is good for democracy. However, what is good is not that there is a split but that it has come about over the fundamentally flawed and illiberal proposal of ID cards. Being New Labour of course the civil liberties context does not appear to be an issue. Instead Jack Straw, the previous Home Secretary (who we only realised was a woolly liberal when he was succeeded by Blunkett), has attacked compulsory identity cards because he does not believe that they will solve the problem they are designed for, namely combatting terrorism.

Those who remember the rather quaint cardboard ID cards that were issued during the war do not always know what the fuss is about when people like me object to their re-introduction. They also seem to forget the uproar that led to them being abolished in the first place. Any new compulsory ID card, however, will be hi-tech and will enable access to a whole load of information about bank accounts, medical records, social security etc through a smart chip and a suitable machine reader. We will be charged £40 for them, a fee that will amount to a flat rate tax akin to the Poll Tax.

People say that if you have done nothing wrong then there is nothing to worry about, but the fact is that the security services and the police already carry out routine surveillance on innocent citizens for political purposes. These cards will enable them to easily track the movement of every individual in the Country and to gather unprecedented information on their private lives that is no business of the state.

The issue that I think has got Jack Straw hot under the collar however is the fact that no matter how sophisticated the cards are, they will still be perceptible to forgery, they will not catch a single terrorist or criminal and they will cost a fortune to introduce, money that could be spent on a more effective police force. The fact is that if you want to catch terrorists then there is no substitute for intelligence, and whatever else these cards will do, they will not inform on the plans and thoughts of their owners nor will they think for us, well not yet anyway.


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