Saturday, 16 May 2009

Saying “No” to ID cards, and all that they entail

NO2ID is a non-partisan (i.e. non-party) campaign group which is fighting to keep Britain free. The biggest threat to our democracy, curiously enough, is our own government’s ID scheme, which if implemented will have the whole population numbered, tagged and tracked for life. I didn’t think it could happen in this country, but as soon as I heard the words “identity cards” I knew something was wrong.

It is true that in many countries identity cards are a fact of life, and no one blinks an eyelid over their existence. It is also true that identity cards are first and foremost a means of social control. In no way are they a convenience—so let’s get that straight right from the start. Also, very few countries have centralised database-linked identity cards, and those that do are highly authoritarian states.

The ID scheme system being pushed through by this government, against all advice, is an expensive monstrosity, but it is also—and here is the nub of the matter—demonstrably politically dangerous, so dangerous that it is just unconscionable that a British government could be responsible for its implementation. Let’s be very clear about this: information is power and the ID scheme is a grab for power.

What am I talking about? Well, when you troop off to apply for a British Identity card you will be asked to surrender a large amount of information about yourself, and have your biometrics (fingerprints, iris scans) taken. This, really, is the whole trick—you are told that ID cards are going to improve your security, that they are a wonderful idea, and in exchange you give up your information. Is this a fair exchange? Not really: you just gave up your privacy for life; your inconvenience has just begun, and you are not the slightest bit more secure, far from it.

The information you surrender will be held on a centralised government database—the National Identity Register. So what? So now thousands of government officials will potentially be able to access your information. (The reverse is not true—you cannot see their information). Every time your Identity card is used to verify your identity, a record will be kept on the computer. This means that an “audit trail” of all your public transactions will be available to government officials, for life: you have been tagged. (And you will be paying for the verification checks—your ID is now something you will have to pay for constantly!)

Although I personally don’t think they are necessary or desirable, there is a case for introducing a universal identity card, and there are ways of doing this that are reasonably safe and democratic. What makes the government’s scheme so unacceptable is the database element, and the fact that so many people will have a right of access to information about you, at will and with no warrant required. This shifts the balance of power between citizen and state massively in favour of the state. One Guardian reader recently (Letters Monday 2 March 2009) commented:

I have no objection to personal data being collected and stored on government or other databases provided that:
a) I have the absolute and inalienable right to access such information at any time in a free, complete and comprehensive form, including the right to know who else has access to or has accessed any such information.
b) I have the same right to be informed immediately when the data is collected or used.
c) I have the same right to access the same data held on anyone who accesses my information in whatever form.

What the Reverend Geoff Percival is trying to highlight here is that under the “Identity Cards Act”, 2006, you don’t have these rights; you are just expected to accept the massive imbalance of power between you and the government. If they tried to set up this system in America, or any other democratic country, there would be an uproar the likes of which we saw in Australia back in the 1990s (The Aussie public showed itself to be less gullible and more combative than its British counterpart—up to now anyway).

To summarize: By applying for a British Identity card you will effectively be giving permission to the government to keep your personal details and DNA on file for the rest of your life and for the lifetimes of all your descendants. Your details will be stored in one easily accessed place, all together (a massive security risk). You will pay for the ID card to be linked to a file, and pay to renew it every year or as often as required by the government. An official could alter your records without your permission and without telling you. You will not be able to know who made such alterations. You have no legal right or authority to get mistakes on your file corrected. You will be legally responsible for the accuracy of your record, and pay hefty fines if there are inaccuracies. You will effectively be agreeing that every single official in any Council in the land, plus all government employees, plus any members of quangos, charities etc should have full, unrestricted access to your records, both information about your personal life, finances, and health history.

If all this is not a totalitarian nightmare, I don’t know what is. Wake up people. Join NO2ID today.

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