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I’ll do it, but only if you’ll help

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Below is an abridged version of Andrew Gilligan's excellent anti-ID cards article from The London Evening Standard last year. Memorize his criticisms, use them in debates!

"Why I will never carry an ID card" (November 23rd 2004)

"It is important we do not pretend that an ID card would be an overwhelming factor in combating international terrorism. I have not made such claims."

The above words, in July 2002, are of the [former] Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

"An ID card would make a significant contribution to tackling terrorism."

The words, in summer 2004, of the same Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett, as he announced that a Bill would be brought forward to introduce compulsory ID cards this autumn.

Today, as the Bill to introduce ID cards from 2008 was announced in the Queen's Speech, I remain as confused as Mr Blunkett himself appears to be about the real need for this hugely contentious idea. Because make no mistake about this: whether you are for or against, the introduction of ID cards marks an historic shift, for peacetime, in the relationship between the British citizen and the state.

Every one of us will effectively have to apply to the Government for permission to exist, or at least exist in any way which involves using public services. And even if the principle does not trouble you, the practical effect will be to create an entirely new layer of hassle.

The innocent, they say, have nothing to fear: but the lesson of the Passport Agency, Criminal Records Bureau and Child Support Agency fiascos is that no Government computer scheme ever avoided massive inconvenience to the innocent. Those schemes were a fraction of this one's complexity and size.

Even if the technology works, what if some bureaucrat enters your data wrongly? If your card is stolen, how many hours of Greensleeves on the call-centre hotline will it take to replace it?

In an age when everyone agrees on the need to reduce red tape, ID cards will require an enormous and expensive new bureaucracy, complete with a dozen new crimes and offences for the unwary. Did you know that you will be required to tell the police when you move house — with an £1,000 fine if you forget? Did you know that your friends and neighbours can be required to give information about you? Do you think the constabulary and courts have better things to do? The justification for all this needs to be very strong. But it is not. ID cards are a solution looking for a problem.

In all the years of debate and argument, no one has yet explained how exactly the cards will reduce terrorism or most kinds of crime. Will muggers be obliged to show you their ID before they hit you over the head? Did Spain's compulsory ID system prevent the Madrid bombings?

Mr Blunkett claims that 35% of terrorists use false or multiple identities: which means, by my reckoning, that 65% of terrorists use their own identities. They do so because they are not known to the authorities as terrorists, a factor which can only increase. ID cards may be able to reduce the use of false and multiple identity among British citizens; but the vast majority of Islamic terrorists are not British citizens.

ID cards might, it is true, help reduce certain types of fraud. But even by the Government's own reckoning, identity-related benefit fraud amounts to no more than £50 million a year; NHS tourism to "a few hundred million"; and all identity-related fraud, public and private sector, to a total of £1.3 billion.

An ID card scheme would cost a minimum of £2 billion. [NOTE: the estimated cost as of June 16th 2005 is between £12 and 18 billion!]

An ID scheme may seem popular now — but once people learn more about it, the resentment will build. Making everyone pay £75 [perhaps over £100!] to go to the police station and have their fingerprints taken may not be quite the vote-winner that Mr Blunkett thinks.
Oliver Coombes, 15 years ago.

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