Cards for a lost identity
Published in: Daily Mail
A leaked Cabinet document has revealed that the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, plans to make everyone in Britain buy an identity card. Proposals to be published later this month will say that although it won't be compulsory to carry this card, anyone who is challenged must produce it within a few days.
This follows a consultation exercise in which, the government claims, it found overwhelming public support for identity cards. Mr Blunkett dismisses any opposition as predictable howls of outrage from the usual suspects among civil liberties campaigners.
This trivialises real concerns and legitimate objections. Identity cards go directly against the very basis of English liberty, which regards everyone as innocent unless proven guilty. They would transform the public into objects of suspicion, required by authority to prove that they are what they say they are. This goes deeply against the grain, and strikes at the very heart of what it is to be British.
People are rightly extremely fearful about the threat of terrorism. They are also incandescent about the volume of illegal immigration, and the abuse of public services by people with no entitlement to be in this country.
Identity cards are presented as the antidote to terrorism, welfare fraud and illegal immigration. So it's hardly surprising that this proposal is currently popular. If these cards were indeed such a panacea, the erosion of liberty might be justified. Given the magnitude of what may be lost in the process, however, the case being made for them has to be persuasive. But it doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
For example, they would not eradicate the grave threat of terrorism. As the police themselves say, they have no difficulty identifying terror suspects. Indeed, some have turned out to be British citizens who were living here perfectly legally. The difficulty lies either in finding evidence to put before a court, or in summoning the political will to arrest such people or deport them.
The second claim is that identity cards would halt the flow of illegal immigration. Again, there is no doubting the urgency of the problem. The numbers coming in are wholly unsustainable. Britain has simply lost control of its borders, and nothing the government has done has resolved the crisis.
But this is due to a massive failure of political will. Britain has become a magnet for illegal immigration because people know they can easily disappear inside the country once they arrive.
The reason is that the government will not take the action necessary to stop this invasion. It has refused to stop people at the borders by locking them up, and refused to throw them out when they are found to be here illegally.
It has refused to pass its own asylum act and thus reclaim asylum law from the European and English judges who have made it unworkable. It has refused to insist on an opt-out from the European Convention on Human Rights, and refused to acknowledge that its own Human Rights Act has made immigration policy impossible.
Instead, it is now pinning its hopes on identity cards to flush out illegal immigrants. This would be a serious imposition on the rest of the population, who would find themselves having to prove their entitlement to public services. It would subject them at best to inconvenience and at worst to criminalisation if they forgot their cards, or failed to notify the authorities of a change of address or other personal circumstances.
Mr Blunkett says carrying the card wouldn't be compulsory. Even so, it would be a potential source of harassment and worsen relations between the police and the ethnic minorities. And despite Mr Blunkett's assurances that strict limits would be imposed on the information held on the card, its capacity for intrusion into personal privacy would be substantial.
All this might be acceptable if it would indeed end the immigration and asylum rackets. But this is far from certain. After all, the abuse of public services could be significantly reduced immediately if there were the will to do so.
People registering with a doctor, school or council housing department could be required right now to produce documentary proof of identity or entitlement - a passport, National Insurance number, even a British driving licence --without which they would not receive these services (except in a medical emergency).
The fact that this is not done is because this country doesn't bother to enforce any meaningful notion of citizenship, under which those claiming public services or benefits could only do so as part of the bargain of being British.
Not only is this bargain not enforced, but the government is actually increasing the numbers of non-citizens - people on work permits or student visas - who are entitled to free health care and other services.
It is also granting the right to live and work in the UK to all the central European countries which are about to join the EU next May. So presumably their millions of inhabitants would also have the right to access British public services, and would be given the identity cards to prove it.
Then there's the little matter of fraud and the black market in stolen identities.
Mr Blunkett says his hi-tech card would stop identity theft because it would be equipped with images of a person's iris or fingerprint --the very latest in what is known as 'biometric' technology.
But this would still require data to be cross-checked, entailing a high degree of bureaucratic efficiency by a government which cannot even manage to pay tax credits, deliver passports or enforce child maintenance payments without catastrophic system failure.
Moreover, every 'foolproof' technological advance has always been foiled by determined criminals. Indeed, researchers have already found ways of fooling the biometric iris or fingerprint scanners. All the evidence from countries where identity cards have been introduced is they provide an instant black market for fraudsters.
True, European countries with successful immigration controls have identity cards. But they, too, were facing an immigration crisis until they started locking people up and throwing them out. In other words, there is no substitute for taking tough-minded decisions to curb terrorism, illegal immigration or welfare fraud.
But instead of taking such effective action, the Home Office is busy tearing up traditional liberties - just as its response to rising violent crime is to threaten jury trials and the presumption of innocence. All this from the government that brought in the Human Rights Act - proving that this highly partisan agenda is not about human freedom at all, but ideological control.
And it's a particularly European kind of control. For European countries are top-down democracies, in which freedom is bestowed on their citizens by politicians and judges courtesy of written constitutions. And because their notion of citizenship depends upon an identity card, those countries are happy to have open borders since their citizens are internally policed.
The British have always found that system oppressive. We have relied instead on policing our borders, not our people. Now that our own system has catastrophically broken down, the government intends to start policing its citizens instead, abandoning our ancient principles -- and forcing us to pay