The Introduction of ID Cards
The national identity card will become the 21st century’s greatest achievement says the government. But does it represent the loss of the last straws of individual privacy?
What are ID Cards?First the government proposed voluntary, information-based cards linking individuals to a record on a national database – holding less information, said the Prime Minister, than a loyalty card. Soon after, the government decided that identity cards should be compulsory to anyone buying a passport. Recently, the Prime Minister has suggested that biometric fingerprint scans would also be added to the cards (putting up the cost dramatically). It’s expected that Brown’s new government will make new decisions on this controversial issue very soon.
Why do we Need ID Cards?The main purpose of the proposed identity cards is to help the government track us: particularly those of us who are illegal immigrants, criminals or holders of an expired visa. The government wants ID cards for more sinister reasons, too: they’ve spoken about selling the national database information to companies such as banks and supermarkets, and working in collaboration to create a file on every British citizen.
Of course, if you’re not an immigrant, you don’t plan to (and haven’t already) committed a crime, and you’re not living on an expired visa, why should you carry an identity card? Blair’s government put forward a strong anti-terrorist case, and Brown’s government looks set to follow suit. Consultants have advised the new Prime Minister to emphasise the benefits of cards to ordinary people.
What are the Benefits of ID Cards?There are few individual benefits in carrying an identity card; for most of us it represents the loss of privacy, should we need to show it. Why make this sacrifice? To see the true benefits it’s important to take a step back.
- Cutting down on identity fraud. Identity fraud – a blanket term that includes cases where someone spends on your credit card without your permission, uses your car registration number to park illegally, or adopts your identity to leave the country – is the UK’s fastest growing crime, and it’s essential that the government takes steps to prevent it. You may not know anyone who’s been a victim. But it’s such a big threat that you will, soon.
- Restricting illegal immigrants. Two years ago it was estimated that more than half a million illegal immigrants are living in the UK. ID cards should help to cut back on the number of immigrants who bypass official entry. But, say critics, it will have little impact on the immigrants already living in the country. Typically paid in cash and living below the filing line, illegal immigrants are unlikely to put themselves in a position where they have to show a card. At the moment the government says that police officers will not have the right to demand an identity card in random checks.
- Preventing criminal and terrorist movement. “One in four criminals uses a false identity,” said Tony Blair, in response to a petition against ID cards. “ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult. I also believe that the Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register.” It’s a good argument, but will criminals still be able to escape the system? A former MI5 chief has spoken out; arguing the cards – like other forms of identification – will be susceptible to forgery.