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Sunday, April 11, 2004

The new Poll Tax?

The Observer reports this morning that I.D. Cards are to be compulsory within six years. There are a lot of arguments against compulsory I.D. cards, not least the cost. It can be argued that the billions of pounds that will be needed to develop databases, biometric technology etc and to introduce these cards could be better spent on reinforcing the Police and the Security Forces in their fight against organised crime and terrorism. I would also agree with the Conservative, Oliver Letwin. He says that there is no evidence that ID cards will help tackle terrorism. He also says that the technology needed to implement a scheme could be prohibitively expensive and raises serious civil liberty issues. The linking of the data on these cards and the access that they will give to hundreds of databases around the Country will actually make it easier for the Government to pursue the surveillance of political activists, for example. That is no fantasy for such surveillance happens already. Letwin is advancing a classic Liberal argument and one that does not seem to bother this increasingly right wing Government.

The crunch in selling this policy however, lies in the charge that the Government is proposing to levy on people to hold an I.D. card that they will need to access the NHS and state benefits. The Labour Government are envisaging a price of £80, twice what it currently costs to buy a passport. There will be a lot of people who will not be able to afford this. Such a charge will amount to a flat rate tax for just living in this country - a new Poll Tax in fact. Do the Labour Party really want to go down this route?

Update: via The Guardian's Backbencher for 7 April 2004 the website Stand.org.uk has a list of 24 unanswered questions about the I.D. card scheme. They want to know:

the actual reason for the introduction of ID cards;
what ID cards can and cannot do;
who will be able to demand an ID card and under what circumstances;
if ownership of ID cards will be compulsory;
if the carrying of ID cards will be compulsory;
whether all parties asking for ID cards will be able to see all of the information held on the card;
the security of the ID cards and the centralised database;
the form of any biometric data to be held on ID cards;
how any biometric data might be collected and how much time and effort would be required of that process;
the ability of the cardholding citizen to view personal data held on ID cards;
the accessibility of such information to people using minority computer systems, to those without computers and those requiring assistive technologies;
the ability of the citizen to demand the correction of misleading data held on the ID card;
the supervision of the centralised database necessary to operate the ID card system;
whether there will be data on the ID card to which the citizen does not have access;
the ability of a citizen to track the usage of their ID card and by whom;
the ability of the government to track ID card usage;
if centralised data will be shared between government departments, researchers or commercial organisations;
if personal data will be exported from the country and hence out of the remit of the Data Protection Acts;
what protections will be put in place to prevent "function creep";
what protections will be put in place to prevent abuse of the ID card system by future administrations;
what protections will be put in place to prevent official abuse of the ID card system;
how the ID card system will not discriminate against ethnic minorities;
if the ID card scheme violates the Data Protection Acts;
if the ID card scheme violates the European Convention on Human Rights (as incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998), especially as legal opinions suggest it will


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