The proposed introduction of ID cards
Green Party press office briefing
Contact Ruth Somerville or Spencer Fitz-Gibbon, 020 7561 0282
This briefing was first drafted in November 2003, when a sceptical cabinet allowed Blunkett to "proceed by incremental steps to build a base for a compulsory national ID card scheme". Since then, the government has sought to exploit the aftermath of the Madrid bombings of March 2004 as an opportunity to accelerate the drive not only to introduce ID cards but to make them compulsory straight away. It now appears that the draft bill as it stands allows a compulsory scheme to be introduced after a simple vote of MPs and peers without the need for fresh legislation .
Opponents of a compulsory scheme believe that in the current climate of fear over terrorism, the measure would easily be passed if all that was required was a simple Commons vote.
This briefing is intended as a response to Home Office claims about the benefit of ID cards, to be voiced before ID cards are introduced quietly, and without proper consideration for the future implications of such an important measure.
1. What type of card is being proposed?
1.2 The Home Secretary insists that stored information will be limited to name, age, address, and gender, but there is potential for this to include everything from financial and medical to employment records, which could then be shared with third parties including police, immigration and even the private sector.
2. What will they be used for?
2.1 The Home Office website states that they will only be used to claim benefits, use the NHS, and get a job. Although it does not specify that ID cards will be compulsory for travel, the Home Office acknowledges that cards can be used for travel in the UK and around Europe.
2.2 The Home Office website states that it will not be compulsory to carry an ID card, nor will police have that "stop and produce" powers.
3. What is the government doing?
3.1 At the time of writing, the Bill is in draft stage, but David Blunkett states that he wants to introduce the cards "incrementally". The first cards are to be issued in 4 years’ time, and will be introduced in 3 ways:
3.2 The target is that 80% of the population will have one by 2013. Then a vote will be taken on whether to make the scheme compulsory.
3.3 Compiling a register of 60 million people would cost an estimated £186 million in the first 3 years, with the eventual bill for running the system at £3 billion. This is an enormous task. (Currently the largest bio-database only holds details of 30,000 people.)
3.4 It will be largely paid for by the public, with a massive increase in card prices including:
4. Arguments for and against
"An ID card scheme will help tackle the crime and serious issues facing the UK, particularly illegal working, immigration abuse, ID fraud, terrorism and organised crime."
David Blunkett, Home Secretary
"All the evidence from other European countries suggests that ID cards are expensive, ineffective and damage community relations… Tackling fraud, combating terrorism and reducing crime require detailed and intricate policy solutions. ID cards are no answer at all. They represent a real threat to our civil liberties and our personal privacy."
Mark Littlewood, campaign director, Liberty
4.1 The governments reasons for introducing the cards are given as:
Preventing crime and organised terrorism
4.2 Most crime is unsolved because the perpetrator hasn’t been caught, rather than because they haven’t been identified. In the UK last year, over 75% of 4 million reported crimes went "undetected" – no-one was even arrested, much less charged or convicted.
4.3 Faking ID cards is no object at all to sophisticated terrorist and money-laundering groups: the perpetrators of the 9/11 atrocities were all either in possession of legitimate identification documents or held compelling forgeries. Those who are active in terrorist networks may well have the appearance of being typical law-abiding citizens in other aspects of their lives. The French government discovered that fraudulent production of their new "unforgeable" smartcard quickly became one of the most profitable criminal activities in the country in the mid-1990s.
4.4 Identity is not the key to preventing crime or terrorism. So unless the cards are used for greater "stop and search" police powers, or unless it becomes compulsory to carry them, it is difficult to see how they can affect crime figures.
Preventing benefit fraud
4.5 The overwhelming majority of benefit fraud occurs from people lying about their economic circumstances and health, not about their identity. ID cards will make little difference unless the data on the cards is expanded to include financial, medical and employment records.
Preventing immigrants from illegally claiming NHS care or benefits, working illegally, or being "lost"
4.6 Most immigrants and asylum seekers are entitled to NHS care and education. The small number who are fraudulently claiming could not possibly cost the NHS even a tiny fraction of the £3 billion it will cost to set up the ID card scheme.
4.7 Asylum seekers have to be enrolled, background-checked and use a "smart" card to claim regular income benefits. People who defraud the benefits service usually do so by lying about finances and illegal work. So again identity cards would solve nothing.
4.8 Many people working illegally do so with the full knowledge of their employers: ID cards will make no difference.
4.9 "Missing" immigrants have never been issued with ID cards, so ID cards therefore cannot be used to track them.
5.1 In their proposed form, there is no convincing argument for ID cards: whilst they definitely cost the public £3 billion, there is no proof at all that they will solve any of the problems they are purported to deal with.
5.2 In fact the only way ID cards can have any purpose is by expanding the data on them and the power attributed to them. This can be the only logic behind introducing such a costly scheme.
5.3 Whilst we have no idea how they may be used or abused by future governments, we know in the past ID cards have been used to persecute certain groups (eg Jews in Germany), and that the cards are being billed as a "solution" to "bogus" asylum seekers and that they will be introduced for foreign nationals before British nationals. Taking these racial aspects into consideration, it would seem that the introduction of ID cards would not only be pointless, but also potentially dangerous .
1. "Cabinet leak exposes conflict on ID cards," The Guardian, Monday March 22, 2004: