Saturday, 29 December 2007

Hello no2id

A spectre is haunting Britain, and that spectre is the ID-Database State (IDS). Many people will be aware, vaguely, of the passing of the Identity Cards Act in 2006. Few people it seems have yet fully comprehended what the connection between identity cards and the proposed National Identity Register (NIR)—tellingly the first thing listed under the contents page of the above mentioned Act—really means. In a nutshell, the Act if followed through to its logical conclusion will serve as the basis for the setting up of a highly authoritarian state where the citizenry will no longer have any privacy, and where the government will get a very significant level of social control over us the likes which have never been seen before in this country. To be blunt, we find ourselves under political attack by our own government.

What went wrong here? How on earth did the IDS get to see the light of day?

These are important questions and I am not sure if there are any simple answers to them. Moreover, I have personally been out of the country for 13 years continuously since 1994, and only recently returned to my home town area of Thanet, Kent. Of course, from afar I have been keeping tabs on political and social developments in my home country, as has been my habit since becoming a politically aware teenager. Several political events and trends have greatly disturbed me during the last decade or so. The first inkling that something was going awry was, I thought, the banning of fox hunting. Don’t get me wrong, I never was in favour of fox hunting as such, but its mandatory banning seemed highly illiberal. The decision by the Labour government to go to war against Iraq was another event that set off alarm bells in my head—the initial dossier put out to justify this decision was obviously flaky, and set an extraordinary precedent in the misuse and abuse of information by government. Then there was the “alleged suicide” of David Kelly who’s almost certain murder was swept under the carpet. This last unfortunate episode seemed to underline wider trends which I have come to observe first hand since returning to the UK, trends which may be summed up as a fear of the truth; a fear of taking responsibility for errors and mistakes, and a distrust of those defined as Other.

It was from within this moral lacuna that the IDS reared its ugly head. Turning everyone into a number and linking all our personal information via a widely accessed centralised computer database would, it was inferred, solve all of society’s perceived crime/terrorist/immigration/fraud ills (no one suggested, as I do here, that these ills are in fact symptoms of moral failure on behalf of government, and not on behalf of the populace). And so identity cards were touted as the answer to some very complex social problems, and a way of improving the efficiency of government-citizenry interaction. On the face of things, it seemed plausible that the whole identity card scheme was sort of benign and might have some benefits to it even if there were some costs involved. But, of course, it is not nearly so simple as that because the key component in this scheme is not the identity card—which in and of itself is not such a big threat to liberty—but the NIR, the centralised database set up to hold all our personal information including fingerprints and biometrics. This part of the scheme is sinister and odious beyond all belief, and it truly astonished and scared me that the Identity Cards Act in 2006 got through parliament and became law. It now became clear to me that the government had pulled a fast one and was now well on the way to setting up the infrastructure for future authoritarian government.

Getting back to my questions, I don’t really know why the government should want to build the infrastructure for an IDS. None of the reasons it has put forward for it so far hold any water—all of their arguments fall flat on close examination. One feels in one’s gut that the government lacks a moral compass and is trying to replace human judgement with technology. This will not work. Databases are not secure; as the recent losses of data by government only confirm, the NIR is a security disaster in the making. Identity cards, as even the government concedes, will not stop terrorism, and they will have only a marginal impact on welfare fraud and the problem of illegal immigration. I think to understand how the IDS got to see the light of day then we have to grasp the essence of what identity cards and the associated database are really all about: they are about social and political control. In other words, the government is actively seeking to gain greater control of the citizenry in order to further its own agenda and keep us all in line. How far this is a conscious goal is difficult to say, but any observer of the British political scene over the last decade cannot help but to have observed the creeping authoritarianism that has infected government; the incessant micro-managing of our lives by bureaucrats. With more information at its fingertips, how much easier it will be for the bureaucracy to rule over us goes the unspoken argument. That at heart is what the IDS is all about. I am certain that the IDS represents a brazen political assault on personal freedom and I am determined to fight it tooth and nail.

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“The government are watching us, where we go, and that’s not right, that’s not what we fought for…” These were the words of Don, and aging ex-marine who I had the pleasure of meeting and having a casual conversation—remember those?—down at the Charles Dickens pub the other day. We were discussing the way a chip had been put in the new British e-passports, and how the UK government could now track our global movements via this inserted chip, a major invasion of personal privacy. As Don says, that is not what British service people fought for in recent times. They fought for personal freedom; for the right not to have a government poking around in our business uninvited. It was this conversation that convinced me that there were probably a lot of like minded people out there in Thanet, ordinary people who could perceive the political threat of the IDS. It was at this point that I volunteered to coordinate a Thanet branch of no2id, the non-partisan group that is campaigning against identity cards and the NIR.

As no2id points out in its introductory literature, “We aim to publicise the case against ID cards and to raise awareness from grassroots level among the general public, in the media and at every level of government.” And further, “The Identity Cards Act 2006 is now law—so we are working to restrict the harm it may cause, and our main object is to have the compulsory ID scheme abolished and the Act repealed.” The Thanet branch of no2id has been formed with exactly these two objectives in mind. I would just like to emphasise the fact that just because the Act is now law does not mean that the IDS is “all done and dusted.” On the contrary, there is every reason to believe the scheme will be unworkable and will, once made compulsory, be highly unpopular politically, quite possibly bringing the government down. But why wait for that to happen? If you’re being attacked—and as I have made clear I believe the IDS is a political attack on our personal freedom—then attack back! After all, in a democracy it is everyone’s duty to monitor government and to fight back against unjust laws and misconceived schemes. Otherwise, you get what you deserve don’t you.

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