New Labour’s irrational obsessions are crystallised in its policy on
national identity cards. The ID card bill seizes the commanding heights
of state power not to regulate and control the multinationals but to
regulate and control you and me. The net result of this legislation
will be that £20 billion of public money will be paid to the usual
suspects – the American IT corporations – for them to enable the
regulating and controlling.
The ID card bill is mis-named. The kernel of the government’s plan
is not the issue of identity cards, but the setting up for the first
time of a central database, which will record extensive personal
details about each and every one of us. The government has admitted
that registration on this database will effectively be compulsory. The
database can be accessed from across government, including the police
and security services. As the government envisages identity checks
being made online to the database, personal details will be made
increasingly available to private companies, particularly employers,
banks, airlines and lenders but in due course probably to almost every
company with whom we do business.
A particularly alarming aspect of the government’s ID scheme is the
so-called “audit trail”, a record of every online check made of your
file, by whom and for what purpose. As the identity card bill would
move us towards an ID culture, where checks to the database would be
made every time we accessed public services and almost every time we
engaged in any commercial transaction, the audit trail would quickly
become a daily diary of our lives, of our whereabouts and of our travel
plans. This “open book” could be accessed at any time by government
agencies, without our permission.
It does not take a very long memory to recall the miners’ strike and
how individuals were put under surveillance by government and
prevented, in some cases, from travelling to rendezvous with fellow
trade unionists and activists. How much easier it would be to locate,
follow and harass trade unionists and political activists with all of
our movements recorded by government computer.
Others may remember the Economic League and its blacklisting of
trade unionists. The Economic League was funded, of course, by
employers. Those same employers will be granted access to the national
identity database so that they can check you out before they offer you
a job. Those online checks will be recorded on the audit trail, which
means the government (and the security services) will know where you
work and where you are applying for work. MI5 operates largely outside
Parliamentary scrutiny, and as it will have unrestricted access to the
national identity register and the audit trail of your activities, it
is difficult to see any safeguard against the use of this all-knowing
database to monitor, harass and blacklist trade unionists and political
The draconian and authoritarian nature of the ID bill is underlined
by the array of new powers it grants to the Home Office and the scale
of the penalties faced by those who do not meet their new, onerous
obligations as British subjects. Failure to attend an appointment with
a representative of the Home Office at a time and place of their
choosing will mean a fine of up to £2500. Similar fines apply for
failure to notify the Home Office of a change of address or any change
of personal details and for failure to notify the Home Office that your
identity card has been lost or damaged.
Blairite Arguments Easily Refuted
Identity cards and the identity database offer no defence against
“terrorism” if the “terrorists” are not known as such. The scheme will
do nothing to prevent around 95 per cent of the credit and debit card
fraud which occurs, which is “card-not-present” fraud on telephone and
internet purchases. The bill will not reduce to any significant degree
benefits fraud, around 90 per cent of which relates not to identity but
to misrepresentation of financial or personal circumstances. There is
no international pressure, not from the US government nor from European
governments, to introduce any biometric data on passports apart from a
digital face photograph – there is no requirement, as the government
suggests, to include fingerprints, eye scans or other data on
passports. The government’s most absurd argument in favour, that ID
cards are “convenient” and will let us get on Ryanair and Easyjet
flights, does not explain the need for a £20 billion database that
makes our life history accessible not only to our government but, via
biometric passports, to foreign governments as well.
No other western government is seeking to set up a central, national
database of information on citizens as proposed by the Home Office
bill. Even Bush knows he could never sell such a scheme to the American
public. In Germany, such a national register would be unconstitutional.
So Blair stands alone in his intent to file, index, barcode and number
his own citizens.
What are New Labour’s real motivations behind this intrusive,
expensive and authoritarian identity card bill? Is it simply that they
have fallen for the IT suppliers’ sales pitch (again)? Those suppliers
have grown rich under this government and are set to grow richer still,
at our expense. Is it that big business has persuaded Blair to build
for it the ultimate marketing database, a compulsory Clubcard backed by
the force of law? Or is it that government actually feels the need for
an omniscient instrument of control and intimidation, in case there are
some people still managing to think critically out there, despite the
mind-numbing barrage of modern media output?
Around 20 Labour backbenchers are likely to rebel and vote against
the bill. The task, therefore, is to persuade enough additional Labour
MPs to oppose, or at least abstain, to overcome Blair’s majority of 67.
A defeat for Blair on this crucial issue is within reach. But to
make it happen, maximum pressure must be applied to Labour MPs.
Defeating this bill will kill one of the most authoritarian pieces of
legislation ever laid before Parliament.