I have long emphasised the ethical issues associated with the introduction of identity cards, and so it is good to see that one of the first steps that the new UK government has taken is to cancel their introduction. The Home Office’s Identity and Passport website now carries the following stark statement:
“The Government has stated in the Coalition Agreement that it will cancel Identity Cards and the National Identity Register. We will announce in due course how this will be achieved. Applications can continue to be made for ID cards but we would advise anyone thinking of applying to wait for further announcements.
Until Parliament agrees otherwise, identity cards remain valid and as such can still be used as an identity document and for travel within Europe. We will update you with further information as soon as we have it”.
Alan Johnson, the UK’s Home Secretary, made an important announcement on 30th June about the future of UK identity cards, noting in particular that:
- ‘I want it to be a voluntary scheme’
- ‘It is an important tool for tackling terrorism … it is very helpful’ but is not the whole toolkit
- it would be an ‘identity card with thumbprint and biometric features’
This was further supported by an update on identity cards posted on the Home Office’s web-site which noted that
- ‘From 2011-12, ID cards will roll out to the wider population on an entirely voluntary basis. This accelerated roll-out will benefit those people who need the cards the most. ID cards will be particularly helpful for young people who need to prove their age, and will empower businesses to ensure that they aren’t selling items such as alcohol and cigarettes to those who are underage. The government is also exploring the option of allowing pensioners aged 75 and over to receive an ID card free of charge’.
- ‘The Home Secretary has asked the UK Border Agency to review its successful roll-out of compulsory ID cards to foreign nationals to see how it can be sped up. The agency has already issued 50,000 ID cards to people who are legally living and working in the UK. Under current plans, within three years all non-EEA foreign nationals coming to the UK for more than six months, or extending their stay here, will have a card’.
- ‘Home Secretary Alan Johnson, said that the cards would be the most ‘convenient, secure and affordable way of asserting identity in everyday life.’ He said, ‘The benefits are not just for individuals but also for communities where a reliable proof of age will be invaluable in the fight against underage drinking and young people trying to buy knives.’ He also pointed out the benefits to young people, who he said, ‘on average, have to prove their age more than twice as often as adults.’ ‘
One of the precipitating factors behind this announcement was rising opposition that airside workers at Manchester and London City airports were being forced to have identity cards. The Home Office site provides the following official response: ‘Under the new proposals, ID cards will be voluntary for workers at Manchester and London City airports. Workers will continue to be encouraged to get an ID card, which they can do for free, as it makes it easier for employers to carry out background checks and issue passes.’
These announcements are generally most welcome, because they go some way to recognising that:
- many people in the UK do not want identity cards
- the costs of introducing ID cards are much higher than was originally anticipated
- the claim that they will have a significant impact on terrorism is simply not true, and therefore the government’s attempt to introduce ID cards on the back of public concern over terrorism was devious and misleading
- ID cards are primarily a means through which the state imposes control over its citizens rather than an actual benefit to those citizens. If we have survived without ID cards in the past, why do we need them now?
From the above announcements, it would now seem that the main case ‘for’ ID cards now rests on their ability to prevent underage drinking, smoking and knife crime. Could someone please tell me how ID cards will actually stop young people from getting access to alcohol, tobacco and knives?
It is interesting to note how mainstream media has reported different aspects of this announcement, mostly being supportive of the changes:
- BBC: ‘Climbdown on compulsory ID cards’
- The Guardian: ‘ID cards policy to continue’
- The Guardian: ‘Passport details to be kept on ID register despite card U-turn’
- The Times: ‘ID cards ‘will never be compulsory’ for Britons’
For other views on ID cards see:
- No2ID the UK-wide, non-partisan campaign opposing the government’s planned ID card and National Identity Register